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Even if Portugal's goalless draw with Brazil in Durban left spectators underwhelmed, Carlos Queiroz had every right to feel a little buoyed. A World Cup second round place was clinched without too much drama (or undue exertion, in the end), which is a good outcome for a coach so strongly vilified in the media following the opening game draw with the Ivory Coast. Or is it?
Queiroz and company now face a clash with Spain in Cape Town on Tuesday, a daunting task even if they did beat the European champions in their last competitive outing, a 1-0 win in Euro 2004 to knock their Iberian neighbors out on the way to the final. There is little doubt that Portugal would have preferred to meet Chile in Johannesburg, even allowing for the fact that the fixture would have given them a day's less recuperation time, especially with Marcelo Bielsa's team lacking three first-choice players through suspension for the tie.
Portugal can't say they didn't have the opportunity. It's a stretch to say Brazil were unmotivated, but they had already secured qualification and as such were more placid than is habitual. The first-half spate of seven bookings, picked up in a typically Portugal v Brazil blood-and-thunder climate, made both sides pull back from the brink - but Portugal initially seemed best placed to benefit.
The Quinas successfully reprized the left-side partnership of Fabio Coentrao and Cristiano Ronaldo from the demolition of North Korea early in the second period. Ronaldo got in behind Maicon a few times, but had little in the way of targets to aim for in the center once he hit the byline. One trademark burst through the other side of Brazil's defense, just after the hour, created their best chance of the afternoon, but once the ball reached Raul Meireles he was denied by Julio Cesar. This was the first - and last - time that a Portugal midfielder arrived in a dangerous position in the opposition penalty box.
In one way, it's difficult to blame Queiroz for his circumspection, for his side's run out of qualifying trouble has been based on a miserly backline. The defense has now been breached just three times in the last 18 matches, and as Spain showed against Switzerland, they have trouble getting past a team who 'park the bus', especially with Fernando Torres well off peak form.
Yet Vicente Del Bosque's men showed their own side of ruthless realism against Chile, mugging the South Amercians via David Villa after an astonishing opening twenty minutes that saw them completely dominated. This, and the slick move which culminated in Andres Iniesta's second, and eventually winning goal showed why Spain remain a team to be feared - and tougher opposition than the attractive Chileans.
The real question is not just one of man-for-man quality (an area in which the Spaniards clearly have the edge), but of adaptability. If Spain sucker-punch Portugal as they did Bielsa and company, can the Quinas change tack to respond? After the Ivory Coast match, Queiroz said they would take "more risks" from here on in. He didn't mention this approach would only last one game. A World Cup only comes along one every four years, so if Portugal are not brave enough to seize the moment, Queiroz will have plenty of time to repent at leisure.
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