Three quick thoughts on Portugal-North Korea (World Cup Group G)
Three quick thoughts after Portugal beat North Korea 7-0 in Group G on Monday:
1. No wonder Carlos Queiroz looked so happy. Every coach wants his team changes to pay off but rarely do they work as well as they did for Portugal's under-pressure boss. They could also spell the end of Deco's role in the team: With his criticism of Queiroz's tactics (too conservative) and substitutions (Nani's replacement, Ruben Amorim, playing despite only four days with the squad), there were suspicions that his hip injury was a convenient excuse to leave him out, especially after the federation claimed the injury was on his left hip and his personal press officer said his right hip. Tiago shrugged off concerns that he was too conservative a replacement with a slide-rule pass to set up the first goal, and scored the fourth and seventh himself; Hugo Almeida, in for Liedson, set up one goal and scored another; Simao Sabrosa, in for Danny, also scored. This team is now taking shape and its goals scored leaves Ivory Coast needing a miracle to have any hope of overtaking it on goal difference. On its second-half form, Portugal might even think about topping this group.
2. Does the armband matter in international football? On the day that the French press claimed that France captain Patrice Evra was "blinded by pressure," and one day after former England skipper John Terry failed in a mutiny against coach Fabio Capello, this was a chance to see if Cristiano Ronaldo is a worthy captain for his country.
His appointment back in 2008 was a controversial one, which particularly upset Simao, who felt his experience was better suited to the role. Ronaldo's performances for Portugal are still way below the level he has previously showed for Manchester United and Real Madrid, and this is an ongoing issue for Queiroz. In the first half against North Korea, it was no different: After a long shot early, Ronaldo kept dropping deep to pick up the ball, but his touch and dribbling let him down. Tiago, Simao and Raul Meireles, as well as the attacking fullbacks, showed there is creativity beyond the man who brands himself "CR9."
Someone must have told him that at halftime, as he stayed mainly on the left in the second half, setting up Tiago cleverly for the fourth goal (his first assist in a competitive match in more than two years), combining well with the excellent Fabio Coentrao, hitting the crossbar with a shot from distance and finally scoring as well. That said, he might do well to start joining in the celebrations of goals in which he played no part.
3. Ignorance is sometimes bliss. North Korea did not start the match like the lowest-ranked team at the World Cup, and nor did it adopt the same tactics as against Brazil. Instead, we saw a side attack early with verve and danger, led by the excellent Hong Yong-jo. It's unique to watch a team about which we know so little play at a World Cup, and that start took us all by surprise, which is why North Korea has been an interesting addition to the tournament. Pak Nam-chol's passing and Jong Tae-se's movement were terrific early, but after Portugal's three goals in seven minutes in the second half, the North Koreans faded and eventually fell apart.
Brazil perhaps had the toughest job in playing North Korea when it was a true unknown quantity. Now Portugal has exposed its weaknesses at the back, while improving the tournament's goals average. Ivory Coast will hope to take advantage on Friday.