Spain and Portugal are due to make Iberian football history in Cape Town on Tuesday when they meet for the first time in the finals of the World Cup. They will compete for a place in the last eight after coming through two demanding final group matches in which they were set severe tests of physicality and desire.
In a sense, their meeting in the round of 16 represents a clash of the unfulfilled. Spain's disappointments at the World Cup are legendary. They are five times quarterfinalists—in 1934, 1982, 1986, 1994, and 2002, when they beat the Republic of Ireland on penalties before going out to South Korea by the same method. Now, as reigning European champions, they hope to make achievement match ambition at last.
Portugal entered for the first time in 1966, when they fielded the great team of Eusébio, Mário Coluna, José Torres, and António Simões. Coached by a Brazilian, Otto Glória, they conceded three goals to North Korea in the quarter-finals before sweeping aside their opponents. Two Bobby Charlton goals denied them a place in the final, and they beat a decent Soviet Union side in the third-place playoff.
Since then, they have been unable to qualify on seven occasions and failed to get out of the group stage twice, but finished fourth last time.
Having won their group in 2006, they disposed first of Holland and then of England in the knockout rounds, giving hope that another Brazilian coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, would take them all the way.
But in a repeat of the semifinal of Euro 2002, they were then beaten 1-0 by France and went on to lose the consolation match to Germany. In marked contrast to their 1966 predecessors, a lack of heavyweight firepower—Pauleta and Nuno Gomes were their strikers—cost them dear, as it may do again.
This time, however, Spain and Portugal come to the tournament second and third in the FIFA rankings, and with a great deal of expectation on their shoulders.
Each has a world star—Fernando Torres for Spain, Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal—supported by a cast of well known names with considerable experience in major tournament: the likes of Ricardo Carvalho, Bruno Alves, and Pepe on one side, with Xavi, David Villa, and Iker Casillas on the other.
On Friday, Portugal and Brazil produced what Carlos Queiroz called "a feast of football," but not many others were watching it through the Portugal manager's eyes. Seven yellow cards in the first 45 minutes, four of them to Portugal, provided a fair reflection of the style of the match, with the European side seemingly determined to show by getting their aggression in first that they would not be intimidated by Brazil's muscular defence.
The direct confrontation between the two captains, Ronaldo and Lúcio, was the most absorbing element of the contest. Either man might have walked away with the man-of-the-match award, Ronaldo for consistently attempting to lead the line with a positive outlook and Lúcio for managing to stop him.
The prize went to the Portuguese, presumably because he is the more famous of the two, with the more successful global marketing campaign, which often seems to be the criterion for the individual award in this tournament.
As entertainment, the goalless draw left something to be desired. For those who look a little deeper into football, however, it was an interesting clash in which both sides attempted to lay down markers for a possible second meeting in the semifinals. Brazil, making do without Kaká, Robinho, and the seriously influential Elano, probably came off feeling the happier that they had another gear on which to call.
Like those two, Spain and Chile were both destined to progress to the next stage after their match on Friday, but the South Americans jumped straight into a demonstration of the short-passing, fast-breaking game that has characterised them under Marcelo Bielsa, who coached his native Argentina in 2002.
This time, however, the yellow cards were all distributed on one side, with a critical effect on the evolution of the match. Chile had done virtually all of the attacking when the cautions started to come their way: four of them, including two for the midfielder Marco Estrada, who was sent off before half-time.
Their resistance cracked as early as the 24th minute when their goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, rushed out of his areato make a clearance, failed to find touch or a team-mate, and saw Villa's wonderfully judged shot curl into the net from 40 yards out. Andrés Iniesta doubled their lead with perhaps the calmest pass-into-the-net shot ever seen before Rodrigo Millar's deflected shot made it 2-1.
Once again Torres looked badly off-colour, and he and Ronaldo have only one goal to show for six games. That may change on Tuesday, in what ought to be a rewarding contrast between Portugal's speed, directness and solid defence, and the football equivalent of lacemaking offered by Spain, whose players have yet to receive a single caution.