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Portugal rolls a 7 against North Korea

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- It was around the time that Tiago scored Portugal's third goal in seven minutes that it became relevant to wonder if viewers in North Korea were still watching live soccer.

This was reportedly the first time a match played abroad by the national soccer team had been broadcast live in North Korea, where authorities prefer to know what the public is getting before giving it to them.

But for North Korean fans, a test pattern would have been infinitely better viewing than the humiliating surplus of goals that the Portuguese were producing on a soggy Monday at Cape Town Stadium in an undiplomatic but understandable attempt to pad their goal differential and increase their chances of reaching the knockout round.

By the time it was over, the rain had finally stopped and the Portuguese had scored six times in the second half in a 7-0 victory.

Cape Town, home to scoreless draws and underperforming superstars since the start of competition, finally had goals galore. So did this defensive-minded Cup. The hands of Portugal's once-embattled coach, Carlos Queiroz, may be sore Tuesday from clenching his fists so often in exultation.

"It's a great day for Portuguese football and for Portugal, but it's only 3 points," Queiroz said.

Even Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal's captain and carefully coiffed main attraction, managed to score in the 87th minute, putting an end to his personal drought with the national team that included all of its World Cup qualifying matches.

It was hardly a classic strike. The ball rebounded off the sliding goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk, then ended up perched on the back of Ronaldo's neck as he moved forward. He let it drop to the soggy grass and kicked it into the net.

"My goal is funny, but I'm very happy," said Ronaldo, who was a menace for much of the match and had hit the crossbar minutes earlier. "To score seven goals in the World Cup is not easy. I think my teammates played very well."

Watching it all from under cover in the stands was the 68-year-old Eusebio, who starred for Portugal the last time it faced North Korea in a World Cup.

That was in the 1966 quarterfinals in another goalfest. The difference in that classic encounter was that both teams were scoring, with North Korea jumping out to a stunning 3-0 lead before Portugal scored five in a row -- including four by Eusebio -- to win.

This is North Korea's first appearance in the World Cup since then, but this team will not shake up the sport the way its predecessor did 44 years ago. After proving surprisingly competitive in a 2-1 loss against Brazil in its first game, it remained competitive for only half with the Portuguese -- missing several scoring chances -- and has now been eliminated from contention for the knockout round.

"Our players, I think, played to their full potential; however, tactically speaking I think it fell apart," North Korea's coach, Kim Jong Hun, said. "We couldn't block their attacks, and that's why they scored so often. As a coach, I think it was my fault for not playing with the right strategies."

After a scoreless tie against Ivory Coast in the opening game, Queiroz drastically altered Portugal's lineup, using four different starters: defender Miguel, the playmaking midfielder Tiago and strikers Simao and Hugo Almeida, who, at 6 feet 3 inches, had a considerable height advantage over North Korea's defenders. That proved useful when he headed in the third goal off a cross from Fabio Coentrao.

But the key was Tiago, who replaced Portugal's star midfielder, Deco, who has an injured hip. Tiago plays club soccer for Atletico Madrid and has long been expected to produce marvels for the national team but not delivered. On Monday, he did his part, feeding midfielder Raul Meireles with a clever through ball to set up the first goal in the 29th minute. He then scored twice in the second half. Even though Ronaldo was named the man of the match in the Internet vote that is proving more of a popularity contest than a true measure of the game, Ronaldo and Queiroz agreed that Tiago had been their man of the match.

"He was brilliant, fantastic," Queiroz said.

It may set up a contest for playing time between Tiago and Deco.

"I'm not worried about losing my spot," Deco said. "What matters are Portugal's results."

But this was a team effort, just as it was a team collapse for North Korea. Portugal's goals came from six players: Meireles, Simao, Almeida, Tiago, the substitute striker Liedson and Ronaldo. They came in myriad fashions, with the most consistent threat coming down the left wing, where Coentrao, a 22-year-old left back, was too fast and skilled for the North Korean defense, which eventually began making clearance errors.

The result was one of the most lopsided victories in the history of the World Cup.

Queiroz went out of his way to offer his condolences to Coach Kim and to praise the North Koreans' dignity and sportsmanship, contrasting their attitude with the foul-filled finish of Brazil's 3-1 victory over Ivory Coast on Sunday night, which led to the debated expulsion of the Brazilian star Kaka.

He will not be on the field when Portugal and Brazil meet on Friday in Durban in their final game in Group G. Brazil has 6 points and is guaranteed a place in the second round. Portugal has 4 points and a plus-seven goal differential, meaning that Ivory Coast, with 1 point, must hope that Portugal loses to Brazil, and that it can beat North Korea by a large margin Friday.

The last part hardly seems unthinkable.

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WORLD CUP ROUNDUP

CHILE 1, SWITZERLAND 0::Substitute Mark Gonzalez scored on a header in the 75th minute as Chile beat 10-man Switzerland to move closer to a spot in the final 16 at the World Cup.

Gonzalez headed home a pass from fellow sub Esteban Paredes, who had gotten around the staunch Swiss defense and crossed to Gonzalez at the back post. Gonzalez's downward header beat goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.

Before Chile scored, Switzerland set a World Cup record in the 69th minute by going 551 minutes without allowing a goal, breaking the mark of 550 held by Italy at the 1986 and 1990 tournaments. Chile has won both its games in Group H.

Switzerland played a man down since the 31st minute when midfielder Valone Behrami was sent off with a straight red card for rough play.

The win gives Chile six points and first place in the group. Switzerland and Spain each have three, and Honduras is still stuck on zero.

SPAIN 2, HONDURAS 0: david Villa scored two goals as Spain got its World Cup pursuit back on track with a 2-0 victory over Honduras on Monday.

Villa beat three defenders in the 17th minute before goalkeeper Noel Valladares got a touch to the Spain striker's rising shot but not enough to keep it out.

Villa scored his 40th international goal in the 51st when his shot from the edge of the area deflected off a defender to go over Valladares. But Villa missed a penalty kick in the 62nd at Ellis Park, sending it wide right.

Spain has three points and can still win Group H with a victory over Chile, which earlier beat Switzerland 1-0 to lead with six points. Switzerland has three points and Honduras has zero.