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More misery on grand stage

Portugal Jun 23, 2014
Read
Jun 16, 2014

Portugal already in precarious position

2014 FIFA World Cup Group G: Germany 4-0 Portugal.

The word "asneira" in Portuguese means "mistake" or "blunder," and it could be heard being used with increasing volume and frequency as Portugal's opening match of the 2014 World Cup finals wound down.

One did not have to inspect Portugal's performance too closely to find where the blunders had occurred either, for they were littered among the personnel on and off the pitch in a shambolic display, where anything and everything that could go wrong did just that.

In the moments after the game, when feeling is still running high, there will be many things said about the first ultra-tentative steps taken by what local Portuguese football newspaper O Record has dubbed somewhat indelicately Os Conquistadores. There will be time for more studied reflection later and some rigorous planning for a game with the United States that now takes on mountainous proportions on the route through to the knockout phase of the competition.

In one ill blast of 90-plus minutes, Portugal managed to allow the good will of a nation of fans and of their Brazilian cousins to evaporate almost entirely. By the end of this sluggish, wretched performance, we were watching a side with suspension, injury and form problems building for the next two critical games.

Where does one start? Of all the players who performed, perhaps only substitute Eder could claim to have put in a decent shift. Replacing the beefy but painfully slow Hugo Almeida early on after the Besiktas man injured himself, the rangy Braga front man ran willingly into spaces up front, but with precious little support once Portugal had been reduced to 10 men after another piece of risky posturing by Pepe.

Indeed, Eder was not alone in finding it difficult to break through a well-organised German back four. In midfield, coach Paulo Bento's three little favourites -- Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso -- were swamped by the delicacy, accuracy and punch of an exuberant German middle order, led by the indefatigable Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos. Support from the elegant Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller only bolstered the Germans' superiority.

GermanyGermany
PortugalPortugal
4
0
FT
Match 13
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With the hoped-for spark not arriving from Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrao on the left, nor Nani -- who had reverted to the form that kept him out of Manchester United's side all last season -- on the right, there was little left to hope for bar damage limitation. Thanks to more blunders further back by Pepe, Bruno Alves and, on more than one occasion, Rui Patrício in goal, even that became a distant pipe dream.

Bento must now think long and hard about his next step. Hugo Almeida and Coentrao exited the field in a state of disrepair that suggests we might not see them anytime soon, while Pepe will be missing suspended. William Carvalho, highly touted before this game, must now enter the fray, with Eder likely to start up front and a revamped defence to mask whoever plays in goal -- it is not out of the question that Beto may come in for the hapless and nervy Rui Patricio.

What Portugal need most, however, is Ronaldo. The big fanfare for Portugal's finest had turned to small squeals from a broken vuvuzela by the end of this match. Crowded out, clearly not wholly fit and wearing that slumped-shouldered, sad-eyed look reminiscent of past disasters, he was a peripheral figure on his own big stage.

A game that had been so anticipated had ended up resembling the catastrophes of Portugal's 2002 campaign in Japan and South Korea, when they exited in the first round from a group containing the combined might of the U.S., South Korea and Poland. Even then, there had been a decent fight-back and a considerable heap of bad luck in their elimination.

There is still time to put things right, but matches come thick and fast once a World Cup is underway, and you can find yourself dumped out of it before you know it if you are not careful. Being very careful, however, has got Bento this far. Now he must gamble and risk, a foreign field for him perhaps, but one nevertheless that he must step onto before all is lost.