Portugal joined Brazil in the Round of 16 after playing out a scrappy goalless draw in Durban Tiago should have done better in the 18th minute, slicing a volley wide from the edge of the area after Raul Meireles had crossed from the left. Eduardo made an excellent save after half an hour, reacting smartly to push Nilmar’s close range effort at the far post on to the woodwork after Luis Fabiano had dinked a ball across the area and the Portugal defence failed to react. Two minutes later, Maicon hammered a shot just off target from wide on the right. Nilmar dinked a ball over the head of Ricardo Costa and lashed well over the bar before Fabiano headed wide from six yards after Maicon had lofted a cross to the far post. Cristiano Ronaldo had minimal impact on the first half but shot twice in the closing minutes before the break. First he struck straight at Julio Cesar from 25 yards after running at the Brazilian defence, and he then shot wide from the left touchline a long way out from goal.
The second half was as uninspiring as the first, with chances at a premium. Ronaldo struck a long range freekick into a crowded penalty area and Pepe flicked it over the bar. Substitute Simao shot straight at Cesar from 20 yards before Ronaldo momentarily livened the game up on the hour mark. The Real Madrid man ran at the Brazil backline and burst his way into the box before Lucio got a tackle in, but the ball rolled across goal to the back post where Raul Meireles somehow poked wide with his right foot when using his left would have given him a better angle. Simao crossed low from the left after 77 minutes but Ronaldo could not help it on target at the near post. Eduardo had to claw out a deflected shot from Ramires in stoppage time as the game ended scoreless.
It was 4-3 to Portugal at half time – in terms of yellow cards. In a game short on goalmouth incident, there was plenty of midfield spite around. Portugal’s defensive midfielder Pepe was at the centre of the shenanigans, dishing out and receiving cynical tackles with relish. The theme of retribution was prevalent and Brazil Coach Dunga reacted quickly to pull Felipe Melo out of the firing line in the 44th minute, replacing him with Josue after he had been booked for clattering into Pepe. The score might have been 1-0 to Brazil on red cards at the break had referee Benito Archundia ceded to Portuguese protests and dismissed centre-back Juan when he handled a ball over the top that would have led to a goalscoring chance. A yellow was all that was forthcoming, and Archundia flashed the card in the direction of Duda for his overzealous appeals in the same movement.
For a game between two teams that had scored 10 goals between them in their last round of fixtures, there was a very negative feel to the whole affair. Brazil were excellent at denying Portugal space to play, holding a high line at the back and pressing the Portuguese players all over the pitch. The front three were prepared to join in and made it hard for Portugal to play out from the back. Portugal themselves are no mugs at the back, having kept clean sheets in 15 of their last 18 games since losing 6-2 in Brazil, including in their first two World Cup games. They set up with containment in mind, leaving Ronaldo as the furthest man forward, with a defensive-minded winger in Duda to his left. Pepe was brought in to midfield, a central-back by trade and another sign of Portugal’s defensive approach. Their reward was another clean sheet.
Having been drawn in the supposed Group of Death, both teams have enjoyed very comfortable passages through to the knockout rounds. Brazil were frustrated by a stubborn Korea DPR resistance for long periods of their first game but still picked up the three points and they played a surprisingly poor Ivory Coast team in their second game to seal qualification. Having played out a boring goalless game with the Ivorians in a bid to avoid defeat in their opening game, Portugal ran riot against the North Koreans who could only repeat their Brazilian performance for the first 45 minutes. It was Brazil’s qualification and Portugal’s vastly superior goal difference over the Ivory Coast that removed any attacking ambition from the teams in Durban, with the Portuguese knowing they could afford a narrow defeat and the Brazilians knowing a draw was enough to top the group.
With Group H still very open heading into this evening’s final round of matches, the Round of 16 opponents for Brazil and Portugal are still unknown. With both the Brazilians and the Portuguese teams sharing a lot of traits, they will both face similar experiences against their prospective opponents. Spain will be the team both want to avoid, although they were wasteful against Honduras and will not get as many chances against the far tighter Brazil and Portugal defences. Chile will be more relentless in their attacking than the Spanish but lack a centre-forward who can be relied on to convert if chances are hard to come by. Their defence has yet to be properly tested and the Brazilians scored seven against them in two qualifying matches. Switzerland will be hard to break down and Brazil and Portugal will have to play far more on the front foot than they did against each other today.
Portugal – Eduardo, Alves, Carvalho, Pepe (Mendes 64), Costa, Coentrao, Duda (Simao 54), Danny, Raul Meireles (Veloso 84), Tiago, Ronaldo
Brazil – Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Michel Bastos, Dani Alves, Felipe Melo (Josue 44), Gilberto Silva, Julio Baptista (Ramires 82), Luis Fabiano (Grafite 85), Nilmar