Portugal's resistance might have been breached by Spain, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo a broken man, but coach Carlos Queiroz believes his team will bounce back stronger.
The UEFA European champions won an absorbing FIFA World Cup™ round of 16 contest 1-0 on Tuesday evening, denying Portugal another crack at winning the tournament for the first time in their history. Portugal defended well, but they were ultimately suffocated of space and possession by a Spanish team starting to hit its stride.
The statistics spoke for themselves, with Spain plundering 19 shots to Portugal's nine and having 61 percent of the possession. Queiroz deployed Pepe in defensive midfield and Ronaldo and Simao on the wings, with Hugo Almeida as central striker. But they were unable to break through the Spanish defence, marshalled by Joan Capdevila, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos.
Real Madrid's Ronaldo, the most expensive footballer in the world, was left broken, refusing to speak to the media after the match. His only remark was to a TV crew when he said: "How can I explain it (the defeat). Ask the question of Carlos Queiroz."
He was roundly criticised at home for that and for not assuming his responsibilities as the national captain. In a statement issued later, he said he was deeply sad. "I feel a broken man, completely disconsolate, frustrated and an unimaginable sadness," he said.
"When I said 'put the question to the coach', it is just because Carlos Queiroz was holding a press conference. I was not in a position to explain what was what. I am a human being, and like any human being I suffer and I have the right to suffer alone. I know that I am the captain, and I have always assumed and will assume my responsibilities."
Queiroz - who got to know Ronaldo well when he was Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant at Manchester United - said his team had plenty of chances to snatch the match, but admitted Spain were worthy winners.
"It was an extremely difficult game but Spain moved the ball very well and had more possession and any team that does that can control the game better. We did have opportunities to score but unfortunately we were not able to do so, hence allowing Spain to win 1-0. We could have scored at certain critical moments, but Spain's victory is justified," he said.
Portugal leave the tournament having conceded just one goal, but it was a costly one with David Villa doing the damage. Queiroz said his team deserved praise despite being on an early plane home. "Portugal played a worthy game, the players fought with ambition and desire to win, but it was not possible. We have to come back stronger," he said.
"But I would also like to underscore the fact that Portugal played with a great degree of dignity and ambition and I believe the fans have justifiable reason to be proud of the way the team has played."
He said they would return home and work at becoming an even better side. "We wanted to do well and when we compete at this level, if we manage to obtain second or third, it is not satisfactory," he said.
"We always have as our main goal to win. We also want to have an honourable performance to dignify Portuguese football. I wanted us to be able to leave the field with our heads held high, and I think we accomplished this. We hope that in the next World Cup we can perform with a greater degree of ambition and keep alive our motto of playing to win."
The Portuguese finished second in their group after goalless draws with Cote d'Ivoire and Brazil and a 7-0 rout of North Korea before meeting Spain.