Portuguese in seventh heaven
North Korea 0
Published 22/06/2010 | 05:00
FOR 29 minutes, the romantics and nostalgics were offered the tantalising possibility that North Korea, with their oversized playing kit and uniform haircuts, could surpass their heroic 1966 predecessors with a World Cup victory against Portugal.
Seven goals later, and with Cristiano Ronaldo having ended his 16-month international goal drought to cap a stunning performance, the Koreans had been given a taste of ruthless football reality which even their Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, will struggle to spin in his favour.
Barring the unlikely combination of a defeat against Brazil in Durban on Friday afternoon and a nine-goal swing in favour of Ivory Coast, who face the North Koreans in Nelspruit at the same time, Portugal will progress to the last 16 from Group G alongside the Brazilians.
The Eusebio-inspired 5-3 success against the North Koreans at Goodison Park in 1966 will remain as Portugal's most memorable World Cup victory, but this one enters the record books as their most emphatic.
Yet, more pertinently, this is more likely to be remembered as the day that Ronaldo joined Lionel Messi in the World Cup jet-stream. The Real Madrid forward scored one, made another and rattled the crossbar from long range.
Having been shackled and frustrated by the Ivorians in Port Elizabeth, Ronaldo cut loose in Cape Town and the North Koreans, impressive as they were for the opening half hour, could not get close to the world's most expensive footballer.
Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho said: "Cristiano has a lot of experience and he is important for us, but the pressure on him is a lot.
"I have heard him say already that he can't win the games just by himself and that we have to be a team. But he is an example for us because during the match he shows great skills and he always does his best for us."
It was anything but plain sailing for Portugal in the early stages, however, as the Koreans dominated, with Cha Jong-Hyok, Hong Yong-Jo and Pak-Nam Chol all going close to opening the scoring.
But having been urged to win well by coach Carlos Queiroz prior to the game, Portugal made the breakthrough on 29 minutes when Raul Meireles gave a stunning pass from Tiago the finish it deserved from 12 yards.
Falling behind posed the Koreans a problem. An irritating and obdurate opponent with something to hold, the 'Chollima' lack imagination when they have to chase and create. And Portugal, with players schooled in the unforgiving leagues of England, Italy and Spain, capitalised.
Simao doubled their lead on 52 minutes with a low strike from close range and that signalled the opening of the flood gates. Hugo Almeida then made it 3-0 with a powerful header from Fabio Coentrao's cross before Tiago added a fourth.
Ronaldo's 25-yard strike hit the crossbar on 71 minutes prior to Liedson making it 5-0 nine minutes later. But the goal that the rain-sodden Green Point Stadium had been desperate to witness came on 87 minutes when Ronaldo pounced on a back-pass before slotting past goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk.
Not since a friendly goal against Finland in February 2009 had Ronaldo found the back of the net for his country.
With that, Korean embarrassment was ensured, but Tiago compounded their misery with a header to make it 7-0 two minutes later.
North Korea coach Kim Jong-Hun said: "My players played to their full potential but technically we fell apart and could not stop Portugal's attacks.
"As the coach, it was my fault for not playing the right strategy. That is why we conceded so many goals.
"We have not been able to reach our objectives but we have one game left, against Ivory Coast, to reinforce our mental abilities." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Portugal -- Eduardo; Miguel, R Carvalho, B Alves, F Coentrao; Tiago, P Mendes, R Meireles (M Veloso, 70); Simao (Duda, 74), H Almeida (Liedson, 77), C Ronaldo.
North Korea -- Ri Myong Guk; Cha Jong Hyok (Nam Song Chol, 75), Pak Chol Jin, Ri Jun Il, Ji Yun Nam, Ri Kwang Chon, Mun In Guk (Kim Yong Jun, 58), An Yong Hak, Pak Nam Chol (Kim Kum Il, 58), Hong Yong Jo, Jong Tae Se.