Portugal cut loose to carve an escape from Group of Death

Portugal 7 North Korea 0
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The Independent Football

Time hangs heavy for footballers in a World Cup but the men of North Korea have spent their time in hotels watching programmes they cannot possibly understand but fascinated by the realisation that there is more than one channel.

North Korean television usually only shows sporting victories and took 17 hours to decide that their highly-creditable 2-1 defeat by Brazil could be screened. This, however, is likely to see the North Korean version of Adrian Chiles announcing extended pictures of a potter's wheel or some heavy classical music. During their successful qualification campaign for South Africa some claimed the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il, sent tactical advice to the team manager, Kim Jong-hun, via an invisible mobile phone. The signal must have been lost in the ether because, after an opening when the Koreans looked as determined as they had been at Ellis Park, they caved in completely, conceding three times in seven second-half minutes and three more in the closing moments. To England and Italy, this was an object lesson in how to deal with minor opposition in the World Cup.

To Sven Goran Eriksson this was a mortal blow. In both Euro 2004 and in the last World Cup, his team was eliminated by Portugal and to all intents the latest improbable vehicle for his managerial career, Ivory Coast, were put out of the tournament by this Portuguese landslide. Unless they are to become the latest victim of what has been a lethal World Cup for African nations, Ivory Coast need a 10-goal swing in the final round of matches. If Brazil beat Portugal by three goals, they will need to score seven against North Korea in Nelspruit to go through.

It is as improbable as the thought that, since assuming the Portuguese captaincy, Cristiano Ronaldo had not scored competitively for two years. On Sunday afternoon he rounded on a reporter who reminded him of this fact and vowed to redress the fact against the Koreans.

There were only three minutes remaining when he did and five others had been there before him and even then there was an element of comedy about his goal. Liedson took the ball from a clearly-exhausted defender, fed Ronaldo whose shot was blocked by the North Korean keeper, Ri Myong-Guk; the ball flew up, landed on Ronaldo's back, briefly bounced on to those carefully sculptured locks and then fell at his feet. Eusebio, whose brilliance had overturned North Korea's three-goal advantage at Goodison Park in the 1966 quarter-final, peered through the rain and gave his successor the thumbs up.

There was an irony that one of the world's most marketed footballers had scored against the last bastion of Communism but Ronaldo saw it as a marker for the rest of the tournament. "I told you the goals would come," he said afterwards. "I burst out laughing when I scored because it was so comical. This has electrified the whole team. To score seven is amazing but we also deserve a lot of praise for playing such attractive football while we did it. This is a team that now believes in itself."

Portugal frequently resemble an Arsenal "Lite", who move the ball beautifully but struggle to actually put it in the net. The seven goals they scored beneath skies as grey as any government building in Pyongyang were as many as they had managed in their whole campaign four years ago, when they finished fourth. Ronaldo created the best of the seven, sprinting through and pulling the ball back for Tiago Mendes, who finished crisply, although it was the first Portuguese goal, put away by Raul Meireles from Tiago's wonderfully-judged pass that ensured that the game would go only one way. The question from then on was how many, and the answer was a lot.

It is odd that in a country where, under apartheid, sport and politics were ruled indivisible that so little should have been said about the nature of the North Korean regime. However, they, like Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1986, Papa Doc Duvalier's Haiti in 1974 and the Greater Germany team overseen by Joseph Goebbels will leave the World Cup at the first available opportunity.

Portugal (4-2-1-3): Eduardo; Miguel, Bruno Alves, Carvalho, Coentrao; Pedro Mendes, Raul Meireles (Veloso 70); Tiago; Simao (Duda 74), Almeida (Liedson 77) Ronaldo.

North Korea (5-3-2): Ri Myong-guk; Cha Jong-hyok (Nam Song-chol 75), Ri Jun-il , Ri Kwang-chon, Pak Chol-jin, Ji Yun-nam; Pak Nam-chol (K-I Kim 58), Mun In-guk (Kim Yong-Jun 58), An Yong-hak; Jong Tae-se, Hong Yong-jo.

Referee P Pozo (Chile)

Man of the match Tiago

Attendance 63,644

Fans' network: Rival fans around Britain give their views

Yuri Goncalves, 33, a bar manager in London, who originates from Lisbon.

What a game! I watched the match at Café Kick in London and to be honest I thought we were lucky in the sense that after their result against Brazil, North Korea saw us as a team they could beat, and so they opened up a lot. Once they did that, we were given the space that we need to play our fast, passing football. The first goal settled us, and the second opened the floodgates. I was pleased to see Deco absent, as I think he is off form and had a poor first game. Our midfielders Raul Meireles and Tiago both pushed forward and earned their goals. It was a great team performance – our first for a while now – and that's what we needed to settle us into the tournament. It was a great result going into our final game with Brazil and I think that now we are safely through. After that, if we get a good draw, we could go far. I just hope we haven't used up all our goals!

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