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World Cup Opinion: Throwing my support behind Group H

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Portugal and Brazil made me feel Kent Brockman's pain.
Portugal and Brazil made me feel Kent Brockman's pain.

Perhaps you finished watching Portugal take on Brazil in today's Group G finale. Maybe you even put off other things to watch it. After all, a game between two of the world's top teams is always an occasion, right? Surely both teams were anticipating a Spanish win later today (which would send La Furia Roja to the top of Group H), which would leave both sides desperate to avoid one of the real favorites to win the whole thing.


If you watched the game, you know none of this was true. Portugal sat everyone other than Cristiano Ronaldo behind the ball, and Brazil looked like they'd rather be anywhere in the world instead. The most entertaining things to follow during ESPN's broadcast became watching Dunga freak out for most of the second half due to Brazil's torpid ball movement and John Harkes declaring Brazil's coach "charismatic" (I guess in north Jersey, "charisma" means being an angry, cynical totalitarian). The match itself was appalling. I started to hope that card-happy referee Benito Archundia would send someone off to liven things up, but after giving 7 yellow cards in the first half, Archundia decided to fade into the background. I would have gladly traded his appropriate handling of the second half for something, anything notable happening in this one.

Beyond the jump, I have more complaints about these two unlikable teams.

I suppose I'm more disappointed in Portugal, who always seem to anger me at some point during major tournaments by either playing negatively or like a bunch of goons. I'm not sure why I keep being surprised by it, but I am. Portugal sits third in FIFA's rankings, yet approached their game against a Kaka-free Brazil with the same mentality that North Korea (ranked 105th) did. Sure, the FIFA rankings are a running joke, but by any standard Portugal is a "top" team. How depressing is it that a team with numerous attacking talents feels the need to be so unabashedly defensive-minded? It's one thing if you're just not good enough to play good soccer; I understand why teams like Switzerland bunker in. It's just that this kind of soccer, like seeing a beautiful woman with a terrible man or having to hear a song by Ke$ha, offends my sensibilities. I guess the only good thing about all of this is that Carlos Queiroz never ended up coaching the US.

Brazil was only slightly less disappointing, mostly because even Dunga found himself upset by his side's display. Brazil has been sometimes unfairly characterized as totally negative under Dunga, which isn't true; they're just less attack-minded and less showy than they have been throughout their history. It's like if your favorite band releases a so-so album. It's actually not that bad in the grand scheme of things, but your disappointment is much more acute when your expectations are set high. In the past, Brazil would have picked up on Portugal's cowardly approach to the game and made it fun. There would have been attempts at showmanship, 1v1 dribbling, passing, something audacious. Instead, Brazil essentially stood around for 90 minutes waiting for referee Benito Archundia to blow his whistle so they could go back to the hotel. Maybe the squad is in the middle of a dramatic FIFA 10 tournament on the XBox? ESPN should have televised that instead.

So, to the point of this post: In about an hour and a half, the final games in Group H will take place. I am hoping very strongly for the Swiss to flub their lines against Honduras so that both Spain and Chile, two of the most entertaining teams to watch, go through. I don't just want this to happen because I'm sick of the Swiss. I am fully hoping that Spain and Chile can go on to the knockout round and punish Brazil and Portugal for their craven methods. We've already had to see a defense-first team take the Champions League this year, and at least in Inter's case they have the best quote in the game coaching them. It's time for the teams that treat the ball as a gift rather than a curse to be rewarded.

Please don't mistake my style preferences for a Paul Gardner-esque desperation for days gone by. I don't want to see the 235 return; it's naive to the point of being senseless. I very much value striking a balance between attacking and defending. There are just other, better ways to go about it than setting everyone behind the ball and boring the world to tears. What's wrong with possessing well enough that your opponent never has the chance to create offense? Brazil and Portugal are good enough with the ball to play keep-away with virtually anyone. Isn't that the best use of their talented squads? Put that good technique and vision to good use!