In the Beautiful Game, Brasil are expected to be a beautiful team. All the time. Yesterday all the pundits who were expecting a show of samba and sparks were disappointed to learn that "You can be beautiful some time but you can't be beautiful all of the time" - to paraphrase another great lover of foot.
Yesterday's peformance against Croatia was a many-faceted one but best described by the BBC host Mark Lawrenson as "perfunctory". After starting with four or five minutes of fireworks, the selecao settled into a slow - European - match with a little jittery defending thrown in. Croatia was never going to be an easy adversary but what was more worrying was Ronaldo's pace: like Roma's league victories it barely existed. His partner in crime - the Emperor - is still unable to shake off the indecisive condition that was nurtured at the San Siro with the eternal underachievers. In other words the stars of Ronaldo and Adriano became your everyday attacking duo.
Ronaldinho juggled and jiggled whenever he could, Kaka ran at anything, Emerson and Ze Roberto did as much harrying as the referee (good one) could permit. The two most enthusiastic persons on the Brasilian side were ironically those who had seen it all before - Cafu and Roberto Carlos. Carlos seems to relish the new lightweight ball and will be trying to score from the goalkeeper's spot kick soon.
The conclusion for the Brasilian fan may not be as drab as the press are putting it. Brasil chose to economise on the sparks and bubbly football. Ronaldinho gave us a taster. Kaka provided a scorcher in the lightweight football tradition - but then he was popping that kind of shot in before anyone thought of putting a balloon instead of the ball. But Brasil were also the lethargic team that failed to settle into a good game manouvre. For long periods they seemed to be content to neutralise Croatia without doing anything positive. It was in those periods that they suffered most and forced Dida to display his manificent saving form (touch wood).
They are in need of a good dose of confidence. Yes confidence. To overcome this "they've already won the world cup and are just here to claim it" syndrome that the international press puts on them. They are in need of remembering how they thought about football before money and fame shot them to the heavens. In short they must all learn to smile and play like Cafu, Kaka and Ronaldinho. Because the smile must definitely be part of the beautiful game.
Statistics wise Brasil go on busting records. This was their eighth consecutive victory in World Cup Finals - a record that has no equal. On the other end of the record spectrum are the miserable Bleus who have not found the net in a World Cup match since that dark day in July 1998 when they put three past the verdeoro.
Women and Football
Had some guests over to watch the match yesterday (strictly pro-Brasil). A.D. wanted to know the rules of the tournament before the match - who qualifies? how? M.B. had already had an earlier initiation to the rules of offside and free kicks. Anyway, we were there bundled before the screen and some unforgettable quote moments ensued:
- On screen Ronaldinho does a one-two with Robinho. The commentator (BBC) says "Ronaldinho - Robinho- Ronaldinho". Inevitably A.L. steps in and says "Ils ont deux joueurs avec le meme nom? (They have two players with the same name?).
- Kaka. The girls could not stop laughing at his name. Unfair but understandable. They have not been groomed through years of looking out for weird names. I myself (as Lorna would say) found Croatia's "Jerko Leko" quite entertaining.
- Fouls. Aren't you just amazed whenever women decide to give their undivided attention to football at how concerned they become whenever there is a foul - either for the seriousness of it or for the blatant dive that the player just made?
- Offsides. No comment. But we're getting there.
- Beautiful. I think this is the first Brasil team in a long time that has some good looking blokes for the pleasure of the fairer sex. Dida, Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Kaka all struck some cords here. But it was Ronaldinho who was voted "Le plus mignon" ... mainly because of his all conquering smile and the way he looks like he is always (always, always) having fun.
Next up the Socceroos...