A World Cup is exciting partly because in the first round you sometimes have some smaller nations come and make a great result against some of the big teams, like it happened recently for New Zealand against Italy. It is fun, and everyone feels a certain rejoice at the "big guys" getting taken down. And as much as I agree with this, it is an awful fact that it takes excitement out of the World Cup's later stages: teams like New Zealand or Australia would just get to the play-off matches to defend and hope for penalty kicks. And while this often happens with the big teams as well (notably Italy) there is surely a much higher quality in the game.
Football is the only loser when too many second-rate teams progress.
It is therefore refreshing that, at a time when "smaller teams" just defend (heroically or not) against bigger teams, suddenly, a great team comes along to put things right. Portugal did this today against North Corea. In spite of the matches' historical precedents, there was no doubt who was the greater team. In their first match the North Coreans had defended 11 man against Brazil and managed only to lose 2-1. This tactic was fortunately not followed against Portugal, and in spite of a fine first half, Portugal showed that they are hugely a better team than the hapless North Coreans: 7-0, and I would have loved for the Portuguese to put the ageing Eusebio on the pitch and score four goals again! (I am certain he could have done it!).
In spite of the sympathy North Corea may have because of their 1966 exploits, today they are simply a poor side that will not be missed in the World Cup.
Switzerland is another matter: they are a brilliant team that plays the most boring defensive style, and who surprised everyone playing exactly like that against Spain. In fact, in today's match against Chile, Switzerland managed to go into the history books of World Cup football, as they set the record for most minutes played in World Cups without conceding a goal (565 minutes).
However, the Swiss did lose 1-0 anyway to an offensive, entertaining but inefficient Chilean side that contrary to Switzerland plays the kind of football every football fan wants to watch! No matter how much sympathy one may have for the Swiss, their style is such a bore that I don't want to see them in a play-off match like the one we saw in 2006.
Life is simply too short for matches like that.
No matter your favourites, Portugal and Chile deserve a big thank you today from all us fans of good football around the world!
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