Portugal fail to relive Age of Discovery

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Few people outside Portugal may have heard of Bartolomeu Dias, but in Portuguese schools everyone learns about his feats during the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’.

Dias, the first European to have sailed around the southernmost tip of the African continent, gained near legendary status because he succeeded where others before had failed: he managed to overcome strong wind and severe storms around what was then called the ‘Cape of Storms’ to secure the much-coveted passage around Africa. The cape would later be renamed ‘Cape of Good Hope’ and a statue of Dias can today be seen in Cape Town – where the cape is located.

It is perhaps ironic that Portugal bowed out of the World Cup empty-handed, with no glory or pride in that very same city. Unlike Dias though, Queiroz didn’t dare to win, he was merely happy to wait for the wind to blow in the right direction. And that’s why he failed.

Against Spain, the Portuguese strategy was obvious from the start: frustrate the Spaniards’ superior football and hit them on the counter-attack; after all, Portugal was yet to concede a single goal in the tournament and our neighbours looked shaky in the group stages.

Throughout the first 45 minutes, that plan seemed to work. The high football IQ of Xavi and Iniesta could not find a pass for the deadly duo of Torres and Villa and the Portuguese – even with the usually ineffective Almeida alone upfront – created a few chances on their own.

The moment of the match came in the 58th minute as both managers decided it was time to change something; Del Bosque replaced Fernando Torres for Fernando Llorente and Queiroz opted to bring Danny for Hugo Almeida. On paper, it appeared Spain needed a Navas or Silva type player to provide more width to a side that could not break through the Portuguese watertight backline, but Llorente proved a handful for Carvalho and Alves with his strong presence and aerial threat while Danny made Almeida look like a star.

Five minutes later, Spain broke the deadlock through David Villa after a cheeky backheeled pass from Xavi. For the first time in the tournament, Portugal had to go on the offensive and it didn’t seem something they found easy to do.

The players were clueless and could barely muster a shot, while Spain were more than happy to just keep possession. Having wasted one substitution, Queiroz had to waste another as Pepe was still not ready to play the whole match. The third substitution summed up the Portugeezer problem with Queiroz; he introduced Liedson for Simão, deploying Danny to the wing and sticking rigidly to a formation that wasn’t working.

When the referee blew for full-time, nobody really cared that David Villa’s goal should have been ruled offside. Spain were worthy winners, but more than that, because Portugal showed no attacking intent – not even the last-ditch ‘Hail Mary’ pass long balls. We were worthy losers.

Queiroz: What happens now?

The Portugeezer will reserve his final judgment on Queiroz’s future until all the World Cup dust settles. He seemed rather upbeat for a guy who failed to achieve his self-imposed target of reaching the semi-finals, but in the next few weeks he will have to answer the following nagging questions:

·    Why has Ricardo Costa been the team’s first choice right-back?

·    Why has he relied so heavily on Pepe – a player who only played 15 minutes of football since December?

·    Why has the team struggled so badly to score and why didn’t he take more attacking-minded players to South Africa?

·    Can we actually say the team has improved since 2008?

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