Spain-Portugal a 'mouth-watering' matchup
Portugal's coach promised attacking football ahead of his team's Round of 16 match against Spain on Tuesday, predicting the first-ever meeting between the neighbouring countries in a World Cup would be one of the highlights of the tournament.
A confident Carlos Queiroz said Portugal was ready to "take some risks" after 0-0 draws in the first round against Ivory Coast and Brazil. Spain is the reigning European champion and a World Cup favourite, but has been frustrated by packed defences in South Africa.
The reputations of the two sides augurs for a tense encounter (CBC, 2:00 p.m. ET).
Few nations can attempt to match Spain's fluidity in midfield, while Portugal is the only country yet to concede a goal in the World Cup. But Queiroz said his team would play attractively.
"It will be a great game, a quick game with a lot of creativity and imagination, speed and great moves. I expect a great show of football," Queiroz said Monday. "We want to win the game from the very first minute. In such a game, all that counts is that we move forward and score. We have to take some risks."
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said the teams were well matched, but that his side was gaining in confidence after a slow start.
"We will try to take the initiative, and so will they because they have very talented players," Del Bosque said. "They have another great generation of footballers. They did not come here only to participate. They came to win, just like us."
Midfield playmaker Deco could return for Portugal after missing two matches with a right hip injury, but Danny and Duda are unlikely to play after picking up injuries against Brazil. Spain, meanwhile, is monitoring Xabi Alonso, who returned to training Monday from a right ankle sprain.
The Iberian neighbours have limped into the last 16 scantly looking like the world's second and third-ranked nations, outside of Portugal's 7-0 thrashing of North Korea in this same stadium. But they know that only one quality performance is needed for an enviable quarterfinal draw against either Japan or Paraguay, and a possible semifinal matchup against Diego Maradona's Argentina.
"A game between Spain and Portugal is always a mouthwatering game," Queiroz said. "There is a regional rivalry between our teams, also rivalry at cultural and historical levels."
The teams know each other well. Seven players in the Portuguese lineup play club football in Spain, including captain Cristiano Ronaldo. And there are a total 14 players from the squads that met six years ago in their last major encounter — a 1-0 win for Portugal that knocked Spain out of the 2004 European Championship.
Spain's 21-year-old midfielder Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao may get a chance if Alonso cannot play. Midfielder Cesc Fabregas and winger David Silva also are in the reckoning for Spain, which has yet to have a single player booked. Portugal has seven players carrying yellow cards, including Ronaldo, but no suspensions.
The Spaniards won their group after a shock opening loss to Switzerland, beating Honduras 2-0 and 10-man Chile 2-1; Portugal finished second in its group behind Brazil. Neither team has lived up to its hype, offering only fleeting moments of flair despite their talent.
Spain has had three goals and some top performances from David Villa, but strike partner Fernando Torres has struggled as he finds his way back from knee surgery in April. Portugal's biggest disappointment has been Ronaldo, who scored a late goal against the North Koreans but has been kept off the ball for long periods of Portugal's other matches.
Queiroz rejected suggestions that Ronaldo was underperforming, and said the 25-year-old Real Madrid forward still had a chance to prove his doubters wrong after failing to win a title with his club this season.
"Cristiano is doing very well," Queiroz said. "The season has not really finished yet. There is still one trophy up for grabs."