21 June ~ The fact that their team failed to score against the Ivory Coast surprised nobody in Portugal. Carlos Queiroz's time in charge of the Quinas has been defined by poor luck in front of goal. Cristiano Ronaldo, who hasn't scored a competitive goal for Portugal since the 3-1 victory against Czech Republic in Euro 2008, tried to cryptically reassure the nation that "goals are like ketchup, once they turn up, they all come at once". Ronaldo obviously didn't give the ketchup bottle a good enough shake before the Ivory Coast game, which the high-brow weekly newspaper Expresso said was saved by the vuvuzelas, "which drowned out the sound of people yawning".
Press conferences following the Ivory Coast game have become obsessed by when, if ever, Portugal will score. Liédson, who didn't score in any of the preparation games, was relentlessly grilled about the subject on Friday. "The goal is going to turn up naturally, maybe they'll come flooding against North Korea," was his speculative reply. Raul Mireles, who scored the goal against Bosnia which assured Portugal of their place in this World Cup, was asked how they will score if faced with a ten-man North Korean defence. "We're prepared for this. We'll break down the wall and win the game," was his metaphoric solution. In a final attempt to subdue the ever-growing tension among the press, Ronaldo was drafted in once again on Sunday. He started off well, "I'm not the slightest bit worried. The goals will come...", but then he blew it, "...it could be tomorrow or it could be two years from now".
The fact that Portugal knocked five past North Korea in that famous quarter-final of the 1966 World Cup must put more pressure on the players. On the front page of Sunday's Bola, Eusébio is decked out in the current Portugal kit, next to the headline, "Spirit of 1966 – there's hope that the joy of the 5-3 will be repeated, but this time with less suffering". Eusébio, touchingly referred to as "Senhor Eusébio" by Ronaldo in Sunday's press conference, has been with the team since the Ivory Coast game. Although he cuts a fragile figure these days, his presence on the touchline in training gives an unmistakable boost to squad morale, especially after Deco's poorly judged post-match criticism of Queiroz on Tuesday. Deco will miss the game against North Korea due to a sore shoulder, which could be a blessing in disguise for the team.
One thing Deco never misses, however, is the Portuguese squad's traditional after-dinner game of bingo. This has been played by successive Portuguese squads as a way to unwind since 1966, and pictures of the previous evening's ecstatic winner, usually trapped in a headlock by an unhappy loser, are regularly published in Portugal's sports papers. Whether the North Koreans encourage such capitalistic frivolity behind their wall of secrecy is anybody's guess. Stephen Burrows www.footballportugalpodcast.com