In a game billed as a transatlantic clássico between Brazil and Portugal, two sides surrounded by high expectations here at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ failed to catch fire in a match largely played out in midfield. Yet given the two teams both expect fierce contests come the Round of 16, saving their gunpowder during Friday’s meeting in Durban may turn into a wise decision.
A Seleção fielded a much-changed midfield with Julio Baptista and Daniel Alves coming in to replace the suspended Kaka and the injured Elano, while Portugal also went for a different system to the one employed in prior games against Korea DPR and Côte d’Ivoire. Coach Carlos Queiroz lined up with Cristiano Ronaldo as his side’s lone forward ahead of a five-man midfield consisting of holding player Pepe and the more attacking-minded Danny, Duda, Raul Meireles and Tiago.
Though undoubtedly successful in stifling the Brazilian threat, the tactic also contributed to the play being bogged down in midfield areas, with little in the way of goalmouth excitement. “The plan was to try and open up a bit down the flanks and try and create enough space to play in,” Barcelona star Alves told FIFA.com after a goalless draw which secured top spot in the section for Brazil and second for Portugal. "We did manage to do that on the odd occasion, but to be honest it was generally very difficult."
Players on both sides rated the stalemate as a fair result, with the Brazilians enjoying 60 per cent of the possession and the Lusitanians having the slight edge in terms of goalscoring threat. “We were able to move the ball about a bit in the first period but the match got very clogged up after the interval, because they had lots of players in midfield,” was the verdict of Roma’s Baptista. "We weren’t able to move the ball around quickly, while they were waiting for us to make mistakes before starting attacks of their own."
“We knew it’d be a tight match, without many chances,” Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho told FIFA.com. “It was a very tense match and that didn’t really surprise us, because Brazil and Portugal play in a very similar way and have a lot in common. We tried to attack them when we could but, at the end of the day, it’s a good result. Whenever you manage to qualify for the next round from the so-called ‘group of death’ then you have good reason to be pleased.”
Those hoping to see less of a midfield tussle may not share those sentiments, but there can be no doubt it was a case of ‘job done’ for Brazil and Portugal. And as Alves concluded, it is now time to focus on the knockout stages: “We’ll have to be ready as any error from now on could be fatal. The competition is starting for real now.”