Though Portugal have yet to set Colombia 2011 alight, the two-time FIFA U-20 World Cup champions must be heavy favourites against competition debutants Guatemala – who have just one win and one goal to their name so far.
Coming home in first place in Group B was a real boon for the Lusitanians, given that it enabled them to remain in Cali, where they have been training for nearly two weeks. It also meant they could enjoy a rest day before starting preparations for their Round of 16 clash. The Portuguese alternated between two tactical systems during the group phase, which featured a draw with Uruguay and wins over Cameroon and New Zealand, and were more dangerous going forward after the introduction of Caetano, Alex and Mario Rui.
However, it is at the back where Portugal have really shone. Yet to concede a goal so far, key to that record is the steel of captain Nuno Reis and fellow defender Roderick, as well as the voracious work-rate and covering of midfielders Pele and Danilo.
Given the Portuguese are overwhelming favourites, the pressure is off Guatemala, who will be keen to enjoy the occasion and try and extend an already historic campaign. Hammered 5-0 and 6-0 by Nigeria and Saudi Arabia respectively in their opening two Group D games, Los Guatemaltecos’ coach Ever Almeida urged his downcast players to pull off a “miracle” and give their fans back home something to celebrate. A dramatic 1-0 win over Croatia followed, with the three points enough to send the minnows through as one of the best third-placed sides.
10 – With 11 goals conceded and just one scored in the group phase of Colombia 2011, Guatemala’s goal difference of -10 is the worst of any team ever to reach the second stage of a FIFA tournament.
“We mustn’t delude ourselves. This is a tough competition and any team that’s got this far could prove tricky opponents. But things have been going according to plan for us and we feel ready to have a great World Cup,” Portugal midfielder Julio Alves.
“The team played really poorly in the first two games, but we managed to do a great job of lifting their morale. We’re very happy: we just came here to learn and we ended up qualifying. This is my third miracle,” Guatemala coach Ever Almeida.