Monday, 21 June 2010

Portugal v North Korea

Portugal 7 - 0 North Korea
Meireles 29
Simao 53
Almeida 56
Tiago 60, 89
Liedson 81
Ronaldo 87

The North Korean keeper, Myong-Guk Ri, said this about his side's battling 0-0 draw against South Korea during their qualifying campaign. I felt like I was guarding the gateway to the motherland. Communists, don't you just love them? Not that Communists are supposed to have motherlands, what with it being an internationalist political philosophy and everything, but I suppose if God can have a son, Communists can have motherlands if they like. It's a Dadaist, Derridaist topsy turvy world, after all (no it isn't, by the way).

This really wasn't how to guard a gateway though. If they'd guarded the Yalu bridges like this in the Korean War the UN would have got to Beijing. By full time the Korean gateway was a pile of embers and smashed slate in the middle of an open highway.

It started well enough, evoking comparisons with the Brazil game. Portugal had lots of pressure but precious little result for it, and Korea had some attacking moments of their own. It took until the twenty ninth minute for the first breakthrough. Tiago played the ball into the box, Meireles ran through without being picked up and his shot went in.

Even then, the Koreans kept a lid on Portugal until half time. Ronaldo had one long range shot, well wide, prompting commentator Simon Brotherton to remark that he must be very disappointed, as Messi's been getting all the headlines in Spain. Soon after he got unceremoniously tackled and dumped to the ground, to the audible joy of Brotherton, colleague Mick McCarthy and the entire world. I didn't hear the universal rejoicing, as I had my windows closed, but I'm sure I heard a deep global rumble coming through the floorboards.

At the start of the second half, Myong-Guk Ri fumbled a Ronaldo shot, nearly lost it but got away with it. He might briefly have thought it could be their day.

It didn't last, of course. On 53 minutes, Portugal's elegant passing combinations finally paid dividends. Coentrao, architect of much of their best play, played a long ball through to Meireles on the edge of the box. His one two with Almeida made the space for the lay off to Simao, coming through unheralded and unheeded on the right, and the shot went between Ri's legs and straight into his gateway.

Three minutes later, Coentrao's cross found Almeida's head, and the ball was in the net for a third. Four minutes after that a Ronaldo cross came to Tiago unmarked in the box, and the game was over as a contest. From one nil to four nil in nine minutes, and they'd still found the time for two Korean substitutions.

It might have been kinder if the game had ended then. Instead, it plodded on for twenty minutes with nothing much happening. It seemed like that was that, but there was a sting in the tail.

On 81 minutes Ri Kwang-Chon failed to execute a routine defensive clearance, the ball squirmed past him to Liedson and he added a fifth. On 88 minutes, it was Ronaldo's turn.

Another defensive error let Liedson in again, he slipped it to Ronaldo and Ronaldo went one on one with the keeper. The shot hit Ri's arm and the ball went up in the air as Ronaldo ran past him. Ronaldo was looking down as he tried to keep his balance, and the ball bounced off the back of his head. He looked up, and it bounced again off the top. He stopped, and it fell down in front of him. He volleyed it in to an empty net as the disbelieving Korean defence closed in. Six nil, and the weirdest goal I've ever seen. Football, you couldn't make it up.

There was just time for Tiago to get a second, headed in from a Veloso cross. The Koreans tried to get one back, for dignity's sake, but there was no dignity out there for them today, except that which comes from honest endeavour inadequately rewarded.

Portugal achieved two things with this result. Firstly, they finally put to bed the old story of Portugal v North Korea, 1966. They won 5-3 that day, but only after going 3-0 down, and the initial Korean success against the footballing world order has lived in the popular imagination rather longer than the Portugese restatement of facts. From now on, the tale will be one of twelve consecutive goals without reply.

Secondly, they got the goal difference they needed to virtually guarantee their progress to the last sixteen. For the Ivory Coast to take second place ahead of them, they need to beat Korea and have Brazil beat Portugal to a combined total of nine goals. Realistically, another African dream bit the dust here. Of their six representatives, only Ghana have a real chance of progress.

North Korea become the second team to be eliminated from the World Cup, after Cameroon. Can they pick themselves up to face the Ivory Coast?

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