Favorites advance, but will tangle in next round
Portugal, already through to the round of 16 out of Group D with two wins going into late Wednesday night’s start, didn’t let up against desperate Mexico, who needed a win to assure itself of advancing to the next round.
Portugal prevailed 2-1. Mexico, which had four points entering the match, still managed to finish second in the group because Angola, with one point and a chance to jump over Mexico, failed to beat Iran.
Had Angola won by two goals or more, the African nation would have advanced on goal differential.
The task doesn’t get any easier for Mexico, which will face Argentina in the next round. Argentina, tied with Germany for the most goals scored in the tournament, ended up tops in Group C after a scoreless draw against the Netherlands. The Dutch were runner-ups in the group and will play Portugal in the round of 16.
Despite five starters, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Pauleta and Deco, watching the game from the stands, Portugal came out firing. Midfielder Maniche opened the scoring in the sixth minute, converting Simao Sabrosa’s setup just inside the box.
In the 24th minute, Mexican captain Rafael Marquez inexplicably put his right hand up to touch Luis Figo’s corner, giving Portugal a penalty kick. Simao banged one home for the 2-0 advantage.
Jose Fonseca cut the lead in half on a header five minutes later. In the 57th minute, a handball violation inside the box by Portuguese defender Miguel gave Mexico a golden opportunity to even things up, but Omar Bravo sailed his penalty kick above the crossbar.
Four minutes later, Mexico went down a man as Luis Perez received a second yellow card of the match for blatant diving inside the box in an attempt to draw the penalty. The deflated Mexicans failed to score an equalizer and get a point out of the match, and survived with help from a second-half goal by Iran’s Sohrab Bakhtiarizadeh that tied the game at one with Angola.
For Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, the victory was his 10th in a row in the World Cup: he led Brazil to the title four years ago, with seven consecutive wins.
“I left five players out, but the players that came in did their job well and showed they are valued members of the squad,” Scolari said on FIFA’s World Cup Web site. “Today’s result puts us in an ideal position.”
Later in the day, Group C teams played their final first round matches to determine the standings. In an anticlimactic showdown between two powerhouses that had already booked their tickets to the next round, Argentina and the Netherlands played to a 0-0 draw. The two have the same number of points, but Argentina has a goal differential of plus-seven, compared to plus-two for the Dutch.
Predictably, both teams rested their star players to give them some rest and to protect them from getting second yellow cards that would have kept them out of the next round. The Dutch were without Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel, while the Argentineans were missing Javier Saviola and Hernan Crespo.
In another Group C contest, Ivory Coast recorded its first World Cup victory with a 3-2, come-from-behind effort over Serbia and Montenegro. The three unanswered tallies were capped off by a penalty in the 86th minute that Bonaventure Kalou converted.
The Serbs’ first World Cup ended ignominiously with three losses, two goals scored and 10 goals allowed.
by Yoo Jee-ho