Tapas for two at Oporto
The marquee matches for the last day of group play in the World Cup featured the two halves of the Iberian Peninsula — Portugal and Spain. In their honor I repaired to the Portuguese restaurant Oporto for a day of espresso, tapas and wine.
Actually, even though I love the food (and everything else) at Oporto, I was more interested in the soccer than the piri-piri sauce. The very talented and often aesthetically pleasing Portugal side was facing Battleship Brazil, as one commentator has referred to the South American giants. The second game featured even more talented and even more aesthetically pleasing Spain against upstart Chile, whose earthquake-inspired young players have so far shown tremendous flair.
More intriguingly, though Spain had come into the tournament as one of the favorites (despite the fact that they’ve won exactly as many World Cups as the United States — zero), they pretty much had to win today to be sure of advancing, because of their opening game loss to Switzerland. So it looked like all systems go.
But the first 30 minutes or so of Brazil-Portugal killed my soccer buzz. Brazil coach Dunga (in Brazil even the coaches strike the single name pose) has vowed to win South Africa 2010 by any means necessary, even if that means playing the kind of ugly, plodding futebol that his fellow Brazilians abhor. I actually think he’s getting a kick out of infuriating his compatriots with his anti-samba soccer.
In any event, a very defensive-minded Brazil kept the game on lockdown, and it ended 0-0. It was a stupefying match, the kind that gives soccer a bad name, and all the more frustrating because you know that both teams have the horses to run. Oh well. Both teams advanced. Maybe if they meet in the later stages the Cristiano Ronaldo will get the chance to do something besides nutmeg Homer Simpson.
Spain-Chile was more entertaining, but also frustrating in its own way. For starters, a deluge started here just before kickoff, so Oporto’s televisions went down. They came back on in time to show both sides racing up and down the field, with Spain showing more technical passing ability and Chile more raw speed.
Then Spain scored what will probably be the most unusual goal of the tournament. Hoping to stop a Spanish break, Chile’s goalie ran far outside the box. He slid into the attacker and sure enough deflected the ball away, but right into the feet of Spanish striker David Villa, who took careful aim on the unguarded goal 50 yards away and curled the Jabulani in.
Then, Chile was the victim of some dubious officiating. A Chilean was red-carded for a very minor foul (if the trip was a foul at all), and the team then had to play a man down against the highly efficient Spaniards. Spain scored again, but then, impressively, Chile responded with a goal early in the second half. They lost 2-1, but the goal put them through to the second round where they’ll face Brazil.
Frankly, I’d like to see them dart through the Brazilian defense and pull off a massive (and of course very unlikely) upset.
Spain plays Portugal next in what could be the most entertaining game of the next round (Mexico v. Argentina also comes to mind). The championship of Iberia is at stake.