Gerard Pique is happy to avoid Brazil as Spain prepares for tough Portugal at World Cup

By Paul Logothetis, AP
Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pique happy to avoid Brazil

POTCHEFSTROOM, South Africa — While Spain defender Gerard Pique is happy to have avoided Brazil in the second round of the World Cup, playing Portugal is no bargain.

Brazil is ranked No. 1 in the world, just ahead of Spain, while the Portuguese are third. Spain beat 10-man Chile 2-1 to finish atop Group H on Friday.

“The victory was key because it is fundamental to avoid teams like Brazil,” Pique said.

But Pique was the only Spanish player to express joy at not seeing Brazil on the field on Tuesday.

Most of Spain’s players know their Portuguese opponents, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, from the Spanish league. Ronaldo’s first season at Real Madrid was difficult because his club lost both matches to Barcelona, which makes up the core of this Spain team.

“I’m worried about Portugal, not (Ronaldo),” coach Vicente Del Bosque said. “We saw how they controlled Brazil. They didn’t let them play their football and were strong on the counterattack. There’s no extra satisfaction in getting Portugal over Brazil.”

Spain labored to a hard-fought win over a physical Chile team that showed defensive play isn’t the only way to bother the 2008 European champion. While Switzerland defended and scored on one of its few chances in a 1-0 group win, Chile kept Spain off-kilter by denying it the bulk of possession until Marco Estrada’s ejection after 37 minutes.

“We weren’t at all comfortable in midfield,” Xavi Hernandez said, “but we got through it. We’re happy to finish first in the group without playing at an extraordinary level.”

Barcelona midfielder Xavi looked sub-par against the Chileans, with Spain’s most creative attacks out of midfield mostly coming from Cesc Fabregas after he replaced Fernando Torres in the 55th minute.

Under Del Bosque, Spain has recently edged away from full-out attacking soccer, just as Dunga has done with Brazil. That has thinned out perhaps Spain’s greatest weapon, its talented midfield, with Fabregas and David Silva confined to the bench.

One of those two could still make the lineup against Portugal as Xabi Alonso nurses a sprained right ankle, although Silva hasn’t played since the loss to Switzerland.

But Del Bosque might prefer to partner Javi Martinez with Sergio Busquets as holding midfielders instead against the potent Portuguese. Martinez made his debut after replacing Alonso in the 73rd.

Alonso’s right ankle isn’t Del Bosque’s only worry — Torres hurt his right leg against Chile and backup center back Raul Albiol was carried off during Saturday’s practice after also injuring his right leg. Del Bosque said the Real Madrid defender was undergoing medical scans to determine the severity of the injury, which was either to his knee or fibula.

“After the defeat to Switzerland we went through a bad time, but what is most important is that we’ve recovered and reached our objective,” Del Bosque said. “We deserved to finish where we did after an excellent game — we were better.”

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