Portugal's Tiago leads rout as North Korea wilts

June 21, 2010 07:14 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 09:07 pm IST - Cape Town

Portugal have form when it comes to breaking the hearts of North Korea, although this time, the contest was rather more one-sided. Back in 1966, at the quarter-finals of England's World Cup, the Koreans were on the verge of a famous victory only to surrender a 3-0 lead to lose 5-3 against Eusebio's Portugal. Kim Jong Hun, the North Korea manager, who remembered the game from his childhood, intended to exact revenge.

For 29 minutes, things were looking positive for his team. As the rain lashed down and Portugal could not fashion the break, Carlos Queiroz's players looked frustrated. But in the blink of an eye, the game was turned on its head. Tiago picked out Raul Meireles and when he fired home, it was as though a great weight had been lifted from Portuguese shoulders.

They dazzled in the second-half. As North Korea lost their way and their place in the tournament, the men in red piled on the agony. Cristiano Ronaldo came to light, all tricks, flicks and swagger, and he scored Portugal's sixth to end an international drought that stretched back to February of last year. Having earlier hit the crossbar from 25 yards, he raced through on goal and, when the ball flicked up off the goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk, it hit him on the back of the neck. He allowed it to roll down, however, before lashing it into the empty net. His smile was almost apologetic.

Ronaldo and Queiroz had stressed beforehand that the three points were all that mattered; Portugal got them and so much more. Never mind their confidence, this has pepped their goal difference in dramatic style. It would take a calamity now for them not to qualify ahead of the Ivory Coast. Their final Group of Death fixture against Brazil has some of the trapping of a dead rubber.

The challenge facing Portugal had been to succeed where their well-heeled European rivals had failed: France, Italy and England had previously mustered only draws here in Cape Town against supposedly inferior opposition. After a nervous start, they galloped home in fine style.

There was no surprise about how North Korea set up, although the captain Hong Yong Jo was pushed up alongside the striker Jong Tae Se. The manager Kim's back five had the additional protection of a trio of midfielders. Although North Korea tried to show ambition on the counter and their full-backs looked to bomb forward, it would be incumbent on Portugal to break them down.

This has been Portugal's failing. For all their technique and neat approach work, they have sometimes lacked cutting edge in the final third. They are an international Arsenal-lite and no-one is quite sure whether that is a compliment. The heavy weather at the outset seemed appropriate.

There was edginess to them in the early going. Ricardo Carvalho snatched at a fourth-minute chance and he hit the top of the post with a header from a Simão corner, after Ri Myong Guk had flapped but midway through the half, with North Korea enjoying a purple patch, Ronaldo gestured angrily and the manager Queiroz cut an emotional figure. The Koreans' best moment was when Hong flashed in a shot from the right and, after Eduardo had parried, Pak Nam Chol could not control his header.

The relief was palpable for Portugal when they broke the deadlock and the goal was the epitome of simplicity. Shortly after Ri Kwang Chon had made a saving tackle on Simão, Tiago stroked a through-ball for the well-timed run of Meireles and his finish was low and true. Meireles might have scored again before half-time only to drag wide when well placed.

Portugal turned on the style after the interval and three goals in the space of nine minutes set up the rout. Simão's goal was a beauty, a neat finish after excellent work from Meireles and Hugo Almeida, and then Almeida, with a thumping header, and Tiago, from Ronaldo's cross, got their names on the scoresheet.

North Korea fell apart and The Dear Leader would not have been amused. A dreadful error from Ri Kwang Chon ushered in the substitute Liédson for the fifth and, after Ronaldo's goal, it fell to Tiago to head his second and his team's seventh. Portugal are up and running.

© Guardian News and Media 2010

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