Cristiano Ronaldo, the most recent global icon of the most globally iconic football club in the world – who just so happens to play in the Spanish capital – was not a happy man after the nation of his birth had just lost to the nation that he now calls home. Spain beat Portugal 1-0 in the second round of the World Cup last night, ensuring that any future that Real Madrid’s £80m man Ronaldo writes is obviously still to come, any meetings with Homer Simpson remain just a pipedream, that feature film starring Gael Garcia Bernal will have to be put on ice. His post match outburst to Portuguese television channel RTP changed nothing. He failed, Portugal failed, but Spain succeeded against their bitter rivals in Cape Town, and now a quarter-final with Paraguay awaits.
It was hard work, however. David Villa’s solitary goal came after over an hour’s worth of determined effort against a dogged Portuguese side that can defend well, but do little else other than rely on Ronaldo. That is obviously of a frustration to the superstar forward – who they insist upon calling CR9 in Madrid, but who probably should be called CR1 when he dons his national team shirt, for he is their one-man team – and his post match criticism of his Coach would not have been too much of a surprise to many of the supporters who watch him in Madrid. They will remember Queiroz, the overly cautious Portuguese who was sacked after just one season at the Bernabeu in 2004 after a – by Real Madrid’s standards – disastrous fourth placed finish amid defensive tactics that were unpopular with fans.
But enough about him and Ronaldo’s reflections, this is about Spain and their World Cup progress, and this morning they find themselves in the quarter-finals despite still not hitting the heights that the world knows they are capable of. They certainly started like they would last night, as both Fernando Torres and Villa would extend goalkeeper Eduardo in the opening moments, but that remained the most active that the still troubled Torres would be all night, while Villa would have to wait until the second-half for his moment in the sun. By then the Spanish could have been behind, and probably would have been had Queiroz and his team taken more risks, but it was to be Villa’s and Spain’s night, again, and now only an eminently winnable clash with Paraguay stands between the Spanish and a semi-final. The excitement can really begin.
Once again, it was hardly a classic performance from Vicente Del Bosque’s men, but they retain a strength and a winning mentality that few other sides in the competition can match, and that goes for their entire squad too. “We had more possession,” said the boss, “although it is true that we also went through some poor spells in the first half. But overall we were the better team. We felt comfortable, were good defensively and created danger with the ball. I have to say that the ‘anonymous’ players, who appear less in the press, like Sergio Busquets, Joan Capdevilla and Sergio Ramos have played a great game. We knew we were good. We have more than thirty days training and I think these players want to make history.”
When your anonymous players are playing well, then you know that you are in pretty good shape, and with the four other well fancied teams – Brazil, the Netherlands , Germany and Argentina – all facing each other in the quarter-finals, suddenly Spanish eyes are smiling at the prospect of, as Del Bosque puts it, making history. Obviously, their South American opponents cannot be taken for granted. “We shall not underestimate Paraguay and prepare for them with great respect,” said the 59-year-old, adding: “They have very good defenders but also attackers. We must be fully focused to win that match. We know how difficult it is to be victorious, we can’t take anything for granted. We must be hugely respectful of our next opponents. We are mistaken if we believe that we are already in the semis. We will not win without resolve and concentration.”
All very predictable stuff from the Coach, just as predictable as this Spanish victory, and indeed Ronaldo’s post-match petulance. Many people are predicting a Spanish World Cup victory too, so that can only be a good sign. Write the future? Spain may be just about to pick up a pen.