Portuguese Men Of War
Angola 0-1 Portugal
One can only presume that, tomorrow morning, the Portuguese press will be howling, gnashing their teeth and writing off their team’s chances going much further than the second round of the tournament. Because they would do if Portugal were England. Of course, there were one or two differences. For one thing, Angola are a way inferior team to Paraguay. For another, Angola created chances that could have got them back into the game. In other words, Portugal, who had gubbed their former colony 6-0 and 5-1 in recent friendlies, were poor.
It didn’t look as if it was going to that way at all. Judging from the first five minutes, Portugal looked like they were going to run up a cricket score. Straight from the kick-off, Pauleta raced through and shot across the face of goal when, frankly, he should have scored. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, considering that they’d only been playing for barely ten seconds. There was no repeat of this barely four minutes later. Figo was the provider, and the finish from Pauleta was perfunctory. The scoreboard manufacturers must have been concerned that they might not have put enough space on the display for the possible score.
But then, something weird happened – Portugal failed to capitalise on their great start, and Angola began, slowly, and almost seemingly in spite of themselves, began to believe. This wasn’t like England-Paraguay. There were no “singular” tactical changes. There was no sapping heat. Unlike England, Portugal don’t have a dearth of decent attacking players, and the decision to take Cristiano Ronaldo off after an hour seemed like a fairly sound one, considering his somewhat anonymous performance. The look on his face as he sat on the bench seemed to give away what he thought about it all, though.
The problem was that Angola didn’t have enough confidence to score. With Portugal pushing forward recklessly, there were plenty of gaps at the back to exploit. On several occasions, the underdogs got to within striking distance of Ricardo’s goal, but suddenly seemed to slow down, as if they were afraid to shoot. I was sitting there shouting, “CHRIST ALMIGHTY! THEY’RE NOT YOUR COLONIAL MASTERS ANY MORE!” at the television screen. On the one occasion that they did get through, Macanga forced a fine save from Ricardo.
I don’t know enough about the Angolan football or indeed the relationship between Angola and Portugal itself to properly be able to comment on why their forward players were so timid. If they can take the game to a similarly defensively frail Mexico team in their next game, there’s still a way forward in this tournament for them. Unfortunately, though, they don’t seem to have the attacking fire-power to force the issue. As for Portugal, well, they continue to act as one of international football’s biggest enigmas. You can see, when they’re in possession, that they have great players, but too many of them seem to play each match as if it’s a training match. If we see the best of them, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to get to the latter stages of the tournament, and tonight’s result has left them requiring only a win from their next match against the frail Iranians in order to progress. Watching them left me thinking that hiring Felipe Scolari might have been more of the same for England than some people might have hoped for.