By: Jason Le Miere

Portugal kick-started their World Cup campaign in emphatic fashion with a thumping 7-0 victory over North Korea in Cape Town. After a disappointing goalless stalemate with Ivory Coast last week, the Portuguese answered their many critics and put themselves in pole position to join Brazil in the second round, while North Korea will now only be playing for pride in their final game.
Making four changes to the team, Portugal produced goals from Raul Meireles, Simão, Hugo Almeida, Liedson, Cristiano Ronaldo, and a double from Tiago.

Such a one-sided outcome was hard to foresee early on as North Korea, who appeared to have gained confidence from their narrow opening defeat to Brazil and perhaps Portugal’s own poor first display, attacked in numbers and with a belief that suggested they could cause the Portuguese problems. However, North Korea’s attacking game plan meant that there was increasing space for

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Portugal going the other way. It was Raul Meireles who exposed this space the most effectively early on, as his desire to get forward from midfield was key to much of Portugal’s good play for most of the match.

Appropriately it was Meireles who opened the scoring in the 29th minute. After a perfectly timed run into the box, he was fed through by an equally well executed pass from fellow midfielder Tiago before firing a low first time shot past North Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk.

The goal, somewhat inevitably, seemed to take away much of the conviction that characterized North Korea’s impressive opening to the game, although, it wasn’t until the second half that Portugal began laying siege to the opposition net.

Portugal effectively wrapped up the contest in a seven minute spell at the beginning of the second half. First, some neat interplay on the edge of the area from Almeida and Meireles allowed Simão to be played through, and the winger, selected in place of Danny, calmly slotted the ball into the net. Only two minutes later North Korea were carved open again as the impressive Fabio Coentrão, on one of his numerous marauding runs from left back, produced an inch perfect cross onto the head of Almeida who did the simple job of nodding it past the keeper. Next up it was Ronaldo, once again fairly quiet up to that point, who raced clear down the left before cutting the ball back precisely onto the right foot of the on-rushing Tiago who side footed the ball low to the keeper’s left.

After such a bombardment, North Korea began to lose their heads defensively, and it was some fairly basic errors that led to goals five and six.

Liedson, left out from the first game, couldn’t believe his luck when only minutes after coming on was gifted the ball after a miscue from the North Korean defense and fairly blasted the ball home from six yards out. More sloppy defending three minutes from time allowed Ronaldo to be set clean through on goal and, in a sign that everything was going the way of the Portuguese, saw the ball ricochet off the keeper and on to his back and head before he rediscovered it right in his path and could simply roll the ball into the unguarded net.

The rout was completed in the 89th minute when Tiago grabbed his second of the match with a neat header low into the net.
Such a resounding score line means that even if Portugal were to lose to Brazil in the final group game it would take at least a nine goal turnaround in goal difference for the Ivory Coast to claim second place in the group and a spot in the round of 16.
As well as the result, there were a number of positives to be taken out of the game for the Portuguese. Perhaps most importantly, after a slow start to the tournament and without a goal in almost two years for his national side, Ronaldo sprung into life in the second half. He once again looked dangerous whenever in possession, setting up team mates, getting on the score sheet and hitting a trademark long range strike that thumped against the crossbar.

The central midfield was also much improved for Portugal. Raul Meireles’ continuous runs forward provided excellent support for the lone target man and it is important that this continues if Portugal are to progress far in this tournament. Tiago, too, with his two goals also had an impressive game and it will be interesting to see if Deco is restored to the side once he recovers from the hip injury that kept him out of this match. It may well be that he is now seen as an impact substitute who can be brought on if a touch of inspiration is required to open up a defense.

Despite the positives, one must caution from reading too much into this game against fairly weak, if gutsy, opposition. Although the result may not affect their immediate prospects, Portugal’s next game against Brazil will tell us much about just how far this Portuguese side is capable of progressing in the 2010 World Cup.

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