Portugal and North Korea meet in a match crucial to their World Cup fortunes tonight, reviving memories of their classic encounter at the 1966 World Cup.
The Portuguese were held to a drab goalless draw by Ivory Coast in their Group G opener while North Korea lost 2-1 to Brazil, but they won praise for putting up such a stellar fight.
The Koreans got almost everyone behind the ball to blunt Brazil’s natural samba flair and they will need more of the same if they want to tame Portugal and their captain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Their clash comes 44 years after North Korea’s one-and-only previous World Cup appearance in 1966 when they staged a remarkable run to the quarter-finals only to be beaten 5-3 by Portugal.
That match witnessed one of the greatest World Cup comebacks ever, with North Korea up 3-0 before four goals by the legendary Eusebio helped his team romp to victory.
Odds against the North Koreans
The odds are stacked against the Koreans. They are ranked 105 in the world to Portugal’s three, but they showed enough mettle against Brazil to suggest it will be a close encounter.
North Korea’s danger man is their Japanese-based striker Jong Tae-Se.
Known as the “Asian Rooney”, he has attracted the attention of German side VfL Bochum who said this week they were interested in signing him.
Jong plans to keep himself in the shop window and is keen to get on the scoresheet.
“I’m going to try to improve for the next game and score my first goal,” he said.
“Portugal are a top-class team, like Brazil, and it is going to be very hard but we’re going to keep trying to make it.”
While the pariah north Asian nation has proved its footballing credentials, it has also lived up to its reputation as being reclusive, with media access to the coach and players extremely restricted.
Portugal to be more aggressive
Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, has suggested his team need to be more aggressive than they were against the Ivory Coast, whose tactics were containment and then counter-attacks.
“We’ll need to take more risks in our next match and that goes for both teams,” he said.
“What we need to take out of the last match is that we’ve collected a point against one of the favourites in the group. Now we need to think about getting a win.”
A concern is Ronaldo’s goal-drought for his country with the world’s most expensive footballer not scoring in an official game since the 2008 European Championships.
But Ronaldo, who is on a yellow card, remains confident in their chances of making the round of 16.
“I would have far preferred to come away with three points against Ivory Coast than the man of the match award but we have to continue fighting,” he said.
“We now have to play North Korea, we still have every chance of making it into the next round.”
Defender Paulo Ferreira is equally optimistic, but he knows they need to move up a gear.
“Obviously, we need to play better in the second match and we know it’ll be difficult against North Korea, but we’ll give everything we have to get a victory,” he said.