Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup 2010 Games 45 and 46: Group G

Brazil 0, Portugal 0
Ivory Coast 3, North Korea 0

Much as I predicted yesterday Brazil and Portugal played a less than enthralling match today. There were chippy fouls and a lot of yellow cards in the first half and while Ivory Coast scored an early two goals at no point was Portugal's nine goal differential in doubt. Even if it were, that would be all the more reason for Portugal to play for a draw. Brazil goes to one side of the bracket, seemingly on a collision course with the Dutch, while Portugal may get Spain as their reward for not getting the victory...unless of course Spain can't get a result against Chile.

This was the equivalent of an exhibition game, so I wouldn't read too much into it, but there was one play that was telling. In the first half Portugal had a rare counterattack and a man advantage on a four-three break away. The attacker was in the penalty box, unmarked on the right. Granted the angle wasn't the best, but he laid it off to the center to another player who dove in the box. The result of Portugal's best scoring chance? No shot on goal and a yellow card for embellishment. Portugal is an immensely talented team but that sequence suggests a confidence gap to me. Do they believe they are as good as Brazil? That they can win? In every sport there are players that want the ball in crunch time and players that in the back of their minds would be just as happy to see it go to someone else.

There were a few moments in injury time, including a nice stop by Portugal's goalie off of a deflected shot, but mostly this was a game played very close to the vest.

It's fashionable to feel sorry for the Ivory Coast, probably the best African side, both for the injury to their best player and for drawing the toughest group. Ultimately, though, it didn't come down to goal differentials since Portugal got a tie against Brazil. Also, Ivory Coast had a shot at Portugal in the opening game and both sides played very cautiously, more not to lose than to win. When you do that, you can't complain later that things aren't in your own hands.

One thought about Brazil going forward. They are the #1 team. They are the favorite. But they got 2 goals from a North Korea team that gave up seven to Portugal and were held scoreless by Portugal. Once you get to the knockout stage, will the recipe for beating Brazil be on defense rather than offense...going to penalty kicks or getting a goal of your own on limited opportunities (if North Korea can score on them than anyone can)?

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