Spain 1-0 Portugal (Part 2)

Posted: June 30, 2010 in World Cup
Tags: , , , , , ,

Ok so I should probably write something a bit more sensible/constructive about last night’s game.

I thought this was a pretty fascinating game – exactly what I’d expected. Portugal defended really well, following the Inter v Barcelona blueprint of shuttling the Spanish midfielders inside which had the double effect of forcing Torres and Villa to drift wide; unfortunately for Portugal Villa looked devastating out on the wing and tested the excellent Eduardo several times, including a storming 30-yarder late in the game. Mark Lawrenson described him as “unplayable” and for once I agree. I actually can’t see how you can stop him, he is that good.

Despite Villa’s excellence, Torres was once again off the pace and Portugal were well in the game – a long shot was almost parried into the goal by Casillas (although in his defence he did really well to recover as he was probably being fouled at the time) and Portugal had a couple of good chances from headers. At the other end Spain had been restricted to long shots themselves, for all their possession.

The game turned on a double substitution in the second half, one by each side. Queiroz dropped a real clanger here whereas Del Bosque had the balls to take off a big name for a big man. Portugal’s Hugo Almeida was withdrawn and suddenly they had absolutely zero attacking threat and no escape as Spain hemmed them in and cranked up the pressure.

Almeida’s hardly a world beater, but he was a bit of a pest up front and almost forced the opening goal when Puyol was lucky to deflect his firm cross just wide of the past. He was taken off and this only served to isolate Cristiano Ronaldo who barely had a kick for the rest of the game.

Del Bosque, on the other hand, withdrew the muted Torres in favour of Llorente. It was funny hearing the (English) commentators go absolutely nuts over the positive influence of “a big man”. As if the Spanish tippy-tappy style was just a waste of time, get a big lad on and stick it in the mixer lads.

To be fair to Guy Mowbray, he did make a difference, forcing a good save from a header and unsettling the defence before Villa made the eventual breakthrough, and then holding the ball up brilliantly as Portugal pushed for an equaliser.

Having got the goal, Spain were content to just keep possession without ever really trying to get another. It becomes all too easy for them in that situation, all of their players front-to-back have such amazing control and movement that sharp passes become easy and then there’s always a man in space between the pressing defenders. It is not, however, that interesting to watch in terms of spectacle.

It would be interesting to see the proportion of passes made by Andres Iniesta that actually go forward. He seems to play so often with his back to goal, and players like Xavi and Busquets use him as a “wall” in that they ping a pass into him and he touches it off to the far side – a really fast and effective way of switching the play. The traditional way to do that of course is to wallop a high ball from touchline-to-touchline but that requires an accurate pass, a good touch from the recipient, and a reliance on nobody cutting it out. This way is much easier, especially when the guys passing and receiving are probably the best in the world.

However, I still think that Spain can be beaten. They already have been, of course. It’s starting to look like the first goal against them is crucial – unless you’re Brazil, who should be good enough to pressure and win the ball back and get a goal of their own. What I would really like to see in the semi-final (sorry Paraguay) against Germany or Argentina is for the other team to take the lead. That should really lead to a cracking game.

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