One goal can change everything and that is exactly what happened to Portugal at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Having gone an impressive 333 minutes without conceding in this year’s tournament, a typically clinical strike from Spain’s David Villa was all it took to end Os Navegadores’ hopes here on South African soil.
FIFA.com spoke to Braga keeper Eduardo, whose outstanding performances between the sticks were crucial to Portugal’s defensive solidity. Indeed, Eduardo and Co managed to shut out the likes of Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Luis Fabiano, Nilmar and Fernando Torres, until Barcelona’s new signing Villa fired home on 63 minutes in the Spain-Portugal Round of 16 meeting.
Eduardo had been immense to that point, making a string of fine saves to keep the European champions at bay. And the shotstopper even managed to block Villa’s opening effort from Xavi’s delightful backheel, but was powerless to prevent El Guaje clipping the rebound in off the bar.
“I felt such strong emotions when the referee blew for the final whistle and I realised our World Cup was over,” said the keeper, who was inconsolable after the 1-0 reverse. “I knew that I had a great game against Spain but unfortunately it was no use.”
A Selecção das Quinas thus bowed out of the competition at the last-16 stage, having qualified second from Group G after goalless draws against Côte d’Ivoire and Brazil and a thumping 7-0 victory over Korea DPR. And despite only losing out by the narrowest of margins against the UEFA EURO 2008 winners, Eduardo still saw South Africa 2010 as something of a wasted opportunity.
“We can’t be satisfied, even though we gave everything we could in every game,” said the 27-year-old former Vitoria Setubal and Beira-Mar keeper. “We missed out on a unique opportunity to go all the way to the Final. I really believed that was possible.”
“Iker Casillas’ gesture really means a lot,” continued the Portugal No1, when asked about the hug and words of praise from his Spanish opposite number after full-time. “I’ve always admired him as a goalkeeper because he’s one of the best in the world, but now I respect him even more as a person. It was fantastic.”
No analysis of Portugal’s campaign would be complete without a closer look at the team’s attacking contingent. Rock-solid at the back thanks to the efforts of defenders like Ricardo Carvalho, Bruno Alves and Fabio Coentrao, Portugal’s forwards failed to score in three of their four games – with the notable exception of the seven-goal thrashing of the North Koreans.
With much of the scoring burden placed on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Real Madrid superstar needed 21 attempts on goal to find the net just once. Though he also hit the woodwork on two occasions, his solitary strike came in a second-half avalanche against the Chollima which yielded six goals in 45 minutes.
“It’s true that we were stronger at the back than we were going forward,” Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho told FIFA.com. “But just as the credit for going over three and a half games without conceding shouldn’t just go to the defenders and goalkeeper, nor should the forwards get all the blame for our lack of goals. We attack and defend all together, as a unit. We’ve all got our share of the responsibility.”
That may be the case but, given Portugal went all the way to the semi-finals at Germany 2006, the inquest into their significantly earlier exit this time around is sure to continue for some time yet.