Spain, Portugal game a grudge match?

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:36 PM ET

PRETORIA -- Here's what it means to live in Portugal.

You have two things that border your beautiful country. One is the Atlantic Ocean. It does not have a team in the World Cup. The other is Spain. It does have a team in the World Cup. A very good team. One that your beloved Portuguese national team will take on in the Group of 16 at South Africa 2010.

If that's not the blue print for a grudge match, we don't know what is.

In the days leading up to the clash between David Villa's Spanish side and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portuguese squad, you can bet the trash talk being exchanged between Lisbon and Madrid will contain some colourful language no matter which of the two native tongues you speak.

For Ronaldo, this will be the global stage upon which he can finally embed himself into the bosom of his native land.

Admittedly one of the top players in the world, Ronaldo's success at the club level has never translated to the national team. He's had some good times -- the Portuguese did, after all, finish fourth at the World Cup in Germany four years ago -- but there has never been the same splash, the same pizazz, the same "wow factor" that he's showcased during his time at Manchester United and Real Madrid.

But maybe, just maybe, that's about to change.

In a 7-0 thrashing of North Korea at Cape Town's glistening Green Point Stadium a week ago, Ronaldo was a maestro in cleats, setting up his teammates with brilliant feeds before turning in the coup de grace himself.

With Portugal already up by a touchdown, Ronaldo added the extra point with a moment of true magic, cradling the ball on his upper back, just below his neck, before ripping it into the net without it ever hitting the ground.

True, there were no such similar moments Friday in Portugal's final group game, a hard fought 0-0 draw with Brazil in Durban. Then again, that's not a bad result. Remember, this is Brazil. Five-time World Cup champions Brazil. Most teams go up against the yellow-and-gold machine and hope they are not stripped of the dignity, let alone stay in the game. The Portuguese, on the other hand, more than held their own.

Now comes the battle for the bragging rights of southwestern Europe.

Keep in mind, too, that Ronaldo does play for Real Madrid, one of the top two teams in Spain along with Barcelona. You can bet all that love he was feeling from the Spanish fans is about to disappear about as fast as the French did in this tournament.

The other Group of 16 matchup determined Friday pits Chile, which came out on the short end of a 2-1 decision to Spain here in Pretoria, against South American rivals Brazil.

Chile is only one of two South American countries, along with Ecuador, that do not border Brazil. But that will do nothing to dampen the bubbling emotions between the two fan bases when their national teams meet Monday, with a berth in the quarter-final at stake.

Brazil barely edged out Chile by one point in the South American qualifiying group for South Africa 2010. That they finished so close to Dunga's talented squad is a testament to just how much of a force Chile has become in world soccer.

It is important to remember that this World Cup is just four months removed from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Chile back in February. For so many people back home, still attempting to piece together their tattered lives, a victory over Brazil would be a moral boost like no other.

Portugal-Spain. Brazil-Chile. Two intriguing matchups, each involving countries with lengthy and, at times, bitter histories with each other.

And we haven't even touched on Germany-England or Argentina-Mexico yet.

Now the tournament gets REALLY interesting, doesn't it?


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