We are back to Group G aka the ‘Group of Death’. After a disappointing goal-less draw with Ivory Coast in World Cup opening game, Portugal will be keen to get all three points by securing a win against North Korea. North Korea, on the other hand had the unenviable task of playing Brazil in their World Cup opener. North Korea had been written off even before they kicked the ball and but the Asians made the cynics sit up and take notice when they lost by a narrow 2-1 and putting up an incredible defensive performance against the South Americans.
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Portugal’s hopes lie on Cristiano Ronaldo finding form. He almost scored against Ivory Coast when his long range shot hit the Ivorian goal post and Portugal will be hoping that their captain can break down the stubborn North Korean defense. Despite having very talented players, Portugal have struggled to find a win in their last four matches making it their worst showing at the World Cup ever. An altercation between midfielder and the Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz suggests that everything is not well within the Portuguese squad. They will however, need to forget their differences and play as a team today or else Portugal will go into their final group match against Spain needing a win to qualify. No intelligent football team would want to be in that situation. The Portugal defense made up by the Chelsea duo Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira along with Fabio Cantrao and Bruno Alves will stay on-guard for the North Korean’s quick counter attack. Deco will most likely miss out for the Portuguese with Pedro Mendes, Raul Meireles and Tiago making up the midfield. Carlos Queiroz would want to take more risks against North Korea and play a more attacking 4-3-3 with Simao, Cristiano Ronaldo and Leidson up front.
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North Korea were unlucky enough to have to play Brazil in their first match but they showed the cynics that they were no pushovers. Not only did they not lose by a huge margin, they also did what only three teams outside of South America and Europe have done, i.e. find the net against Brazil. This feat. must have added to their confidence and the North Korean players would now really believe that they have what it takes to qualify to the last-16 from the group of death. However, playing Brazil is never a walk in the park. The resilient performance which the North Korean’s put up against Brazil must also have drained them mentally and physically. So, the question remains whether North Korea (who are one of the fittest teams), have the will and the energy to repeat their performance from the first match. North Korea manager, Kim Jong-hun will most likely not make any changes to the team that played against Brazil and will play a defensive 4-4-2. North Korea will look to frustrate the Portuguese and look to attack on the counter through the ‘Asian Wayne Rooney’, Jong Tae-se and AFC Young Player of the Year for 2007 Kim Kum-il.
The last time the two teams met was in 1966 when Portugal made a great comeback after being 3 goals down to win the game 5-3 courtesy the legendary Eusebio. The chances of a similar scoreline today are very slim though Cristiano Ronaldo will surely be looking to follow in the footsteps of his hero, end his 18 month goal drought and lead Portugal
to a much-needed victory. Portugal must focus for 90 minutes or their defense could get caught sleeping on the job and leave us with another draw.
“It’s an all or nothing game. I have hope that we will make a great game, win and take the three points.” – Carlos Queiroz, Portugal manager
“What we think would be a good result or an achievement that would pass the group phase. That is our main goal. Then afterward, in the round of 16, if we can go further then that would be wonderful. The players realise now that anything is possible.”
Stars to Watch Out For
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo, Simao Simbrosa, Liedson
North Korea: Jong Tae-se, Kim Kum-il, Ri Kwang-Chon
In their last match North Korea became only the third side from outside Europe or South America to score against Brazil at the World Cup.
Portugal have kept a clean sheet in 78.3% of matches under Carlos Queiroz, a higher percentage than any other manager.
North Korea have not won any of their last eight games, losing five of them.
Portugal are on a run of four games without a win at the World Cup, their worst ever in the competition.