Brazil and Portugal advance with stalemate; Ivory Coast out

[GROUP C] Ivory Coast conjured up plenty of chances but despite beating North Korea, 3-0, fell well short of the nine-goal swing it would have needed in case of a loss for Portugal, which rendered the point moot by battling Brazil to a 0-0 tie. Here's what we liked and didn't like about Friday's Group G action ...

What we liked ...

-- REBOUND. Outplayed for most of a first half in which it fouled repeatedly to slow down the Brazilian Express, Portugal came back after halftime to at least make a moderately competitive game of the top-ranked team in the world against the current No. 3.

Second-half subs Simao and Pablo Mendes livened up the Portuguese attack, which prompted a good save from Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar on a shot by Raul Meireles. Portugal also preserved its perfect defensive record in the World Cup with zero goals conceded.

-- FLAVIO COENTRAO. Against a team renowned for its attacking outside backs, the Portuguese defender mustered enough energy to get up the left side and deliver threatening crosses when he wasn’t trying to quell the power and speed of marauding right back Maicon. Coentrao had already played a solid game to contain Ivory Coast forward Aruna Dindane in a 0-0 tie with Ivory Coast and is a player to watch in the round of 16.

-- NORTH KOREA. Embarrassed 7-0 by Portugal after narrowly losing to Brazil, 2-1, the North Koreans couldn’t contain Ivory Coast but carried on sportingly. They go home without a point after their return to the World Cup following a 44-year absence but not without a bit of respect.

-- BRAZIL. With Kaka suspended and Robinho on the bench, Brazil still controlled the ball for long stretches without scoring, which triggered a few more sideline tirades from Coach Dunga. In the knockout rounds, we expect Brazil to turn its superiority into goals.

What we didn’t like ...

-- TACTICAL FOULS. Brazilian central mids Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo can pass and move in sync with their talented, fluid teammates, but they aren’t immune to stopping attacks by fouling deliberately. Referee Benito Archundia carded several Portuguese players for various infringements yet gave greater license to Brazil’s transgressions. Still, after handing out seven yellows in the first half, Archundia let the play flow and didn’t go for the front pocket again.

Archundia ruled that a deliberate handball by defender Lucio to stop a Portuguese break near the halfway line merited a caution, and not a red card for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Since the foul occurred more than 50 yards from the Brazilian goal such an interpretation may be valid, but with no other defender in the vicinity, a case could be made that a goalscoring opportunity was imminent, obvious or not.

FIFA’s decision to carry yellow cards through to the quarterfinals lessens the chances a player would be suspended for the final if he is cautioned in a semifinal, but it greatly increases the chances of a player being suspended earlier in the knockout phase.

Seven players picked up their first cautions of the competition in the Brazil-Portugal game, so all of those players face suspension for a quarterfinal if they get a card in the round of 16. Under the previous regulations, a player with just one card in the group phase would have that card expunged heading into the knockout rounds.

On the other hand, players carrying cards might be less willing to commit the type of fouls that might incur a second caution, so maybe the incidence of cynical and clumsy fouls will decrease. However, provocation and embellishment could increase as well from opponents trying to draw a second caution. Only the next round of games will tell.

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