This came to pass, and in the end each match was ultimately rather predictable, with the obvious exception of the Chollima’s spirited opening display against the Selecao, during which they suggested they could be a force to at least upset one of the other big guns.
But the fans wouldn’t have been concerned about the predictability of such outcomes, what they really wanted to see was flair and excitement, which was promised in abundance due to the participation of three traditionally attacking sides. These expectations would fall flat.
Dunga’s Brazil was as workmanlike as ever, despite possessing some of the most talented offensive players in the world game, while Cote d’Ivoire under the leadership of Sven-Goran Eriksson were for the most part defensively orientated. Portugal, meanwhile, were found to be lacking in invention and cutting edge in their opening encounter against the Elephants and were given a major hand in stuffing seven past North Korea due to the sheer haplessness of their opponents.
The group was ultimately summed up by the climactic meeting of Portugal and Brazil, which was arguably the showcase encounter of the first round. What ensued was a barren scoreless draw that left viewers desperate for the swashbuckling Selecao sides of old as opposed to this efficient, somewhat robotic machine that Dunga presently has in place.
Of course neither side can be faulted for the outcome; the scoreless draw suited both. Brazil progress as the top side while Portugal are also through to the last 16, taking few undue risks along the way.
Fans, however, have every right to feel short changed.
In many ways Friday afternoon’s encounter summed up the World Cup to date. The fear of losing has overcome the importance of winning such fixtures, and although that has always been the case in such group deciders, this was never likely to be a pivotal encounter in Group G.
The pool’s key fixture came in the very first round of games when Portugal met Cote d’Ivoire. That also ended scoreless, and it was a match neither side really seemed intent on winning. Three points would have been nice, of course, but one without any significant worries was quite alright too.
Such games can only be decided by moments of brilliance or glaring errors. Had Cristiano Ronaldo’s fine shot from distance found the net instead of the post, for example, the fans may well have got the blockbuster they wanted.
While it’s understandable that teams play in a reserved manner in such games, it’s nevertheless frustrating for the neutral, who has every right to expect so much more from some of the most talented players on the planet.
Sadly the Group of Death simply became the Group of Dead Boring, with only the unknown and somewhat erratic qualities of the North Koreans adding to one of the World Cup’s biggest letdowns to date.