Thumping win over neighbours overshadows Portugal's joint World Cup bid
It was supposed to be a friendly match to promote the joint bid to the 2018-2022 World Cup, but after the referee signalled the end of the match, all that mattered was how Portugal outclassed their neighbours.
With a superb team display, Portugal registered an unlikely 4-0 win over Spain. And even if it was just a friendly, it showed the Portuguese team is back among the elite.
National manager Paulo Bento had warned he wanted to beat the star-studded European and World Champions, but few probably believed Portugal would take this match so seriously.
Bento said he was trying to build a platform for the future and therefore opted to stick with more or less the same players selected in the previous squad. The return of Chelsea full-back Jose Bosingwa from a long injury lay-off was the most significant news but both Silvestre Varela and FÃÂ¡bio CoentrÃÂ£o were ruled out due to injury.
It is amazing how much the SelecÃÂ§ÃÂ£o has changed since last summer. At the time, the Portugeezer was one of the national teamÃ¢ÂÂs harshest critics, as the players seemed to lack passion and any real game plan.
The special chemistry that so often bonds the supporters to the national side Ã¢ÂÂ somehow superseding the fanatical club bias Ã¢ÂÂ had been broken, and it was feared we could once again fade into the second tier of international football.
Just two matches into the Euro 2012 qualification, the knee-jerking pessimists declared our chances of making it to Poland and Ukraine were all but dead, and President of the Portuguese FA Gilberto Madail made a desperate trip to Madrid to convince God himself (aka JosÃÂ© Mourinho) to save the team. In the end, Paulo Bento was brought in and in his quiet, hard-working style he turned around the teamÃ¢ÂÂs fortunes as if by magic.
Bento, as a former holding midfielder who once captained Spanish side Oviedo, knew exactly where changes needed to be made, and promptly set about revamping the midfield. He moved Pepe back to the heart of the defence Ã¢ÂÂallowing us to benefit from his developing partnership at club level with Ricardo Carvalho Ã¢ÂÂ and brought JoÃÂ£o Moutinho back in to the starting XI.
MoutinhoÃ¢ÂÂs box-to-box style and energy allowed Raul Meireles to play a little deeper and the more advance duties were delegated to sharpshooter Carlos Martins.
The attack was also superb, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani bamboozling the Spanish defenders; as for Helder Postiga, at least for one night he was back to his best. The Sporting forward scored two goals, including a back heel which displayed pure predatory instinct after a slightly mistimed pass from Moutinho.
It is also interesting to read Ã¢ÂÂunderneath the underneathÃ¢ÂÂ. Ever since Queiroz was sacked, someone hints that something was wrong and holding the team back.
Several players have said that under Paulo Bento, theyÃ¢ÂÂre happier and enjoying their football, with the improved results a byproduct of this improved mindset.
Regardless of how good Bento is Ã¢ÂÂ and heÃ¢ÂÂs showing that he certainly is Ã¢ÂÂ it is impossible to make a full assessment of his work with a sample of just three matches, which makes you wonder what the players really thought about the previous manager.
The actual World Cup bid
As stated in the introductory paragraph, this was a match intended to promote the Iberian bid to the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022. According to the latest reports, England, Russia and Portugal-Spain are the front runners to host what is perhaps the biggest sporting event on Earth, which immediately prompt two questions:
Would hosting the World Cup be actually good for Portugal?
Portugal hosted Euro 2004 to great success. All bias aside, the atmosphere created around the tournament was special and proved this tiny country could organize some rather big events. The biggest point of contention was what to do with the stadiums after the tournament as most clubs would never be able to profit from the expanded facilities.
This time, however, things would be different. Portugal would only Ã¢ÂÂlendÃ¢ÂÂ three stadiums Ã¢ÂÂ naturally, from Benfica, Porto and Sporting - which are relatively new and only requiring minor upgrades.
Therefore, it would be a chance to co-host the World Cup with minimal risk and major potential gains. Some may argue Spain will be the focus of the tournament, but in all fairness Spain is bigger and La Liga teams can actually cope with the bigger stadiums. Furthermore, Badajoz, Vigo, Sevilla and Coruna are all located near Portugal which would boost the local tourist industry.
And for those wondering, there would be no problem in hosting with Spain. Despite the rivalry on the field, we get along quite well with nuestros hermanos.
Can we actually win it?
From an organisational point of view, the Iberian bid seems quite prepared to handle whatever is required. From a geographical point of view, it is also well located. The weather is great and most host cities have a lively nightlife.
However, in the past FIFA recommended that the load of a joint bid should be more or less equally divided between the two hopeful nations. Looking at it, it is obviously unbalance, with Portugal only 3 stadiums and Spain with 18.
But hey, letpÃ¢ÂÂs wait for December 2 and see how this three-way tango goes! What do you think? Fish nÃ¢ÂÂ chips, sunny beaches or matrioskas?