Portugal feeling Spanish slight
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Spain defender Alvaro Arbeloa juggles the ball as he takes part in a training session at the North West University Sports Village in Potchefstroom. (AFP PHOTO/LLUIS GENE)
BLOEMFONTEIN -- Spain has changed its message.
Immediately after it qualified by winning its group, the team favoured to win this World Cup said it was happy it finished first so it could avoid playing Brazil.
That didn't sit very well with the team Spain will play . . . Portugal.
Portugal was made to feel like a second-class citizen and while most people would like to avoid Brazil, Portugal believes it can cause Spain the same problems as the Brazilians.
It will get that chance Tuesday when the two play the last knockout game before the quarter-finals in Cape Town.
Both Brazil and Portugal are skilled teams with skilled players. Both move the ball with speed and precision and can control play for long periods of time.
Even though the first-round game between Portugal and Brazil didn't mean much and ended 0-0, Portugal did enough to show that it is far more in form than when it struggled to qualify for this tournament.
The Portuguese also put together the most dominating performance in this tournament, a 7-0 win over North Korea.
More importantly, Portugal believes it can play with anyone.
It caused Spanish coach Vincente Del Bosque to avoid upsetting Portugal again.
"We've seen how they controlled the game against Brazil, hitting them on the counter-attack," he said. "Portugal is going to be a very tough side. I take no satisfaction from the fact we're up against Portugal instead of Brazil. They are both great national teams."
Portuguese player Simao believes other teams that can win the World Cup have been forgotten because so much focus has been on Spain and Brazil.
"Everybody is talking about Spain all the time," he said. "Sure, we have a lot of respect for them as well and they are the European champions.
"But that does not rule out what we've done over the last couple of years."
Portugal finished fourth at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, reached the semifinals of the 2000 European championship and made the final of the same competition four years later.
But Spain is confident for good reason.
After a loss to Switzerland, it came back to win two big games.
That's not the kind of response the Spanish would have had before they won their European title. A catastrophe like a loss to Switzerland would have caused Spain to go into a death spiral.
Instead, the Spanish confidence is on the rise and they believe they have La Furia Roja express back on track.
It helps that striker David Villa has been one of the top three forwards in the tournament, joining Lionel Messi of Argentina and Diego Forlan of Uruguay.
Portugal will need to continue to play the kind of defensive soccer that has allowed it to shut down the opposition completely in 22 of its last 26 internationals.
If the Portugese can do that, they may not have to worry about getting the same respect as teams like Spain and Brazil.