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The oversized sombreros on the heads of thousands of the Mexican fans here must have been difficult to transport over to Germany but on this display so will their brand of football.
In a performance high on adrenaline and frenzied play but low on skill, Mexico contrived to lose 2-1 to a Portuguese side who, having already qualified, were uninterested in pushing too hard.
“Viva Mexico” declared the most popular of the metre-wide straw hats but it is hard to see the national team living beyond the second round if they miss the sort of chances they did here from a dreadful penalty, several one-on-one chances and some awful passing.
From Portugal there were few pointers for what is to come as Luiz Felipe Scolari rested all five of his players on yellow cards and employed far less aggressive tactics than usual.
Despite this reticence, Portugal soon found themselves dominating a game played at the sort of speed seen at this World Cup only when the temperature has dipped, as it did yesterday, and they ended up topping the group ahead of Mexico.
The charismatic duo of managers reacted to the frenetic pace in hugely varying ways. Mexico’s Ricardo La Volpe looked his sullen, almost villainous self as he sat in the dug-out rubbing his goatie beard.
In contrast, Scolari refused to sit down, continually prowling the touchline and offering his players micro-management on how to improve their game. Occasionally he seemed disappointed that there was nobody in earshot to hear his exhortations and feigned to return to the bench before changing his mind and shouting another ferocious instruction to his browbeaten players.
Initially refusing to commit too many players to attacks, Portugal nonetheless quickly underlined their attacking potential by taking the lead in the sixth minute through the sort of move that the Gelsenkirchen stadium is becoming used to. Like in Argentina’s 6-0 destruction of Serbia and Montenegro here last week, Portugal strung a series of quick passes together before Simão Sabrosa threaded an extraordinary pass through no less than six Mexican defenders for Maniche to score.
Portugal in the first half looked as assured as they have all tournament in attack as the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and his often contrived trickery forced them to employ more direct tactics.
Their second goal came from a moment of stupidity in the Mexican defence as captain Rafael Márquez inexplicably raised his hand to deflect a corner. Simão followed Ronaldo’s example in the previous game and struck the penalty hard and high into the left corner.
The goal seemed to spur an almost somnambulant Mexican team into the land of the living as they tried to improve their goal difference so as to allow Angola no chance of overtaking them in the group. Omar Bravo shot in the 29th minute but should have done better as Ricardo managed to parry the ball against the bar, much to the relief of Caneira, who kissed his goalkeeper.
From the resulting corner, Portugal conceded their first goal of the tournament in a way that suggests Holland or Argentina – one of whom they will face next, with Mexico taking the other – will fancy their chances. José Fonseca skilfully glanced a header to a totally unguarded back post to bring Mexico back into the game.
From then on it was virtually all Mexico but they squandered an extraordinary number of chances with Bravo in particular guilty as he first missed a penalty and then shot weakly when clean through on the goalkeeper. Mexico’s cause was not helped by Luis Pérez being sent off for a second bookable offence as he clearly dived in the area.
Portugal barely created an opening in the second half but Mexico equally looked unwilling to take advantage. It all left La Volpe stroking his beard more intensely than ever and Scolari waving his arms in a demented fashion. In the end only one of the frowns turned into a smile as Scolari punched the air like a fighter already relishing the next bout.
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