There is a lot of hyperbole spoken about the Brazilian football team. Probably more than is spoken about any club or national side on the planet. It’s almost a mythology. Admittedly, it’s a mythology based on a handful of the most gifted players that have ever lived (see, even I buy into it, to a degree): Pele, Garrincha, Rivelinho, Zico. Even Brazil teams have their fair share of poor players in the national side: Serginho, Roque Junior, most of the team they took to Italia ‘90. It’s because of the former group of players that every Brazilian who is remotely half decent becomes overrated to the point of greatness: Careca, Romario, Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and of the current crop Kaka. All of whom have great technique, and are wonderfully gifted players, but when we consider the all time greats in the sport, it is unlikely any of those will appear. They are more fortunate to live in an era where footage of them is between readily available and covered to the point of saturation, whereas the Brazil team mythology is helped by their peak co-inciding first with the introduction of television to the masses, and then with the first World Cup televised in colour. Players such as Alfredo di Stefano, Just Fontaine, Gunnar Nilsson, Sandor Kocsis, Estanislao Basora, Oldrich Nejedly, John Charles and Tom Finney as well as Brazilians such as Ademir and Leonidas suffer from being from the years before television, so we will never truly know if they were truly great, or just thought of as great by their own fans. This mythology certainly helps the team when playing most sides, as the thought of facing Brazil is enough for a large number of teams to not necessarily roll over and die, but as good as concede defeat during the warmup. Certainly, Brazil are not a side that have been prone to shock results in the past. Even weaker sides such as the 1990 team got through the group stages without a hitch, but Jorginho, Alemao, Valdo and Mauro Galvao were out as soon as they came up alongside an uninspired (on the day, at least) Argentina. That team was the most derided Brazil side team (in terms of personnel and coach Sebastiao Lazaroni’s tactics) since football was televised, and this time round, there is a similar feeling about the squad. Luis Fabiano has gone without a goal for Brazil since September. Robinho has struggled to adapt at Manchester City. Elano had similar troubles both at City, and with new club Galatasaray, and Kaka is yet to set the world alight at Real Madrid. Dunga’s tactics have been criticised for being too pragmatic, but when the team doesn’t contain the greats of old, the mythology won’t be enough. Certianly not against this Ivory Coast side, who, in the shape of Didier Drogba, who have one of the greatest forwards in the world. Having a player of Drogba’s ability gives any side belief, and helps break down the mythology of the opposition.
Onto the game. The Ivory Coast are wearing one of Puma’s more interesting creations, shall we say. Horizontal stripes, with a diagonal slashRobinho creates the first chance of the finals, ballooning the ball over the bar, when Luis Fabiano was much better placed. It’s the only real action of a rather dull ten minutes, as the so-called bigger nations continue to struggle, much as they did in the early stage of 2002. Didier Drogba has his first shot at goal, which is from a free kick around 30 yards out and goes about that far above the bar. The first skill comes from Cheick Tiote, who wiggles the ball out from between the prone legs of a fallen Brazilian defender. Maicon makes the first probin run by a Brazilian, reaching the touchline, but the cross in long, and knocked away for a corner, which is taken, retaken thanks to some wrestling in the box, and wasted. But 24 minutes in, and Brazil finally wake up. Elano, Kaka and Luis Fabiano exchange passes and flicks, and Fabiano fires a rocket past Boubacar Barry into the net. The drought is over. It’s very much against the run of play, but the goal is as definitive as it is unstoppable. The build up is as stereotypically Brazilian as it gets, but it’s the only flamboyance we get in the first half. 1-0.
Kaka tries to open up the Ivorian defence almost immediately, flicks it to Michel Bastos, who tries his luck, and it deflects for a corner that’s cleared for Bastos to try a cross that eludes everyone. Lucio then has his heel clipped, and appears to be in agony, but no treatment is needed, and the free kick is won. It’s not the only time he play acts in the game, and he’s not the only Brazilian ever to do it – Rivaldo’s shameful clutch of the face against Turkey in 2002, the greatest example – although this aspect of the game is never added to the mythology. Brazil have Portugal to come on Friday, and take the pragmatic approach of retaining possession, and slowing the tempo. They don’t need to score again, the Ivorians need to equalise, and it isn’t until the fortieth minute that theu realised. Kalou’s deflected shot isn’t awarded the corner it deserves, and Dindane is caught marginally offside seconds later, but that’s all they offer in the first half. Drogba has barely featured, and Brazil have taken substance over style.
The second half continues where the first half left off. Brazil keep possession, keep the tempo low, and the fullbacks continue to playact. This time Maicon runs into already booked Siaka Tiene, and stays on the ground until play is stopped. Shameful. Lucio almost comes a cropper as he seems to ignore a call from keeper Julio Cesar until the last moment. Then Brazil double the lead. Fabiano beats Tiene in the air with the assistance of his hand, dinks the ball over Didier Zokora and Kolo Toure, brings the ball down with the inside of his upper arm and fires past Barry. It’s as spectacular as it is illegal, but the officials don’t notice (although subsequent replays show the French referee seeming to ask if the hand was used). Somewhere Harry Kewell sheds a tear. 2-0.
The Ivory Coast get a chance to get back into the game almost immediately. Aruna Dindane crosses from the right hand side, Drogba heads across the face of goal, but it’s wide. Substitute Gervinho livens things up, but his first attempt comes to nothing as he fails to get on the end of a 1-2 from Drogba. Robino feeds Kaka, and Kaka’s shot is parried by Barry and Robinho’s effort from the rebound is also stopped. It’s only a dress rehersal for what comes next. Bastos has his first meaningful run into the Ivorian half, and passes to Kaka, unmarked oustdide the area. He hits the byline, and his cross is slightly deflected by Zokora into the path of Elano, who cannot miss. He celebrates my taking out his shinpads out (adorned with the name of his children) and shows them to the camera. The scoreline might be flattering, but only one team has ever looked like scoring. 3-0.
The Ivory Coast still play like it’s 0-0. And we have an injury. An Elano challenhe slides into Tiote, and Tiote slides on the ball, and straight down Elano’s shin. It’s not a foul, it just looks and sounds bad. I hope he put his shinpads back in after the goal celebration. He’s carried off, but is able to stand on the touchline, his game over. Dani Alves replaces him. Maicon nutmegs Tiote and hits the stanchion holding the net in place. Emmanuel Eboue is substituted, which may be the first time the commentary team have mentioned his name. His replacement Romaric fizzes a shot that almost deceives the unsighted Julio Cesar. Kader Keita leaves a foot in after Bastos clears the ball, and as Bastos writhes around like a fish, Keita enters the referee’s notebook. Jonathan Pearce hoped for some samba football after the third goal went in, but the game is slowly dissolving into nothing. At least until Gervino goes on a run the length of half the pitch, and a tackle from Juan forces him to keep the ball in play, rather than win the corner. He gets support from Yaya Toure, whose cross finds Drogba alone in the area, and his header powers past Julio Cesar. Felipe Melo appeals for offside, but Drogba timed the run magnificently, and the officials know it. If only this had happened earlier. 3-1.
The last five minutes become a needlefest. There’s pushing and shoving over a throwin, and Kaka’s part in the kerfuffle sees him booked. Tiote then gets booked for a late challenge on Fabiano. A fair challenge sees more Brazilian playacting, and then it kicks off. Keita runs into the back of Kaka, and falls down clutching his face. Kaka knows nothing about the contact until it happens, and does nothing to cause the reaction. Kaka walks away, and the the Ivorians chase after Kaka, and the rest of the Brazil side chase after the Ivorians. As playacting goes, it’s worse than anything else tonight, and probably the worst since Rivaldo eight years ago. After a minute or two of peacekeeping, with Keita still on the deck, referee Lannoy gives Kaka a yellow card. We haven’t seen Lannoy speak to his assistants (although they have microphones and earpieces to keep in contact), and he clearly didn’t see the incident, so he’s either acting on the dive or misinformation elsewhere. For some reason, Mark Lawrenson keeps going on about how violent conduct could mean a two or three game ban, but if the referee thought it was violent conduct, it would not have been a second yellow card, and anyone reviewing this on video won’t find any violent conduct either. Lawrenson also suggests that the fourth official has got involved (which FIFA have encouraged), but then suggests that “Oh no, they can’t do that, they’re not allowed to look at video evidence”, as though anyone looking at the replay would have suggested it was a booking in the first place. As punditry goes, it’s as bad as the play acting. The incident kills the game, and Keita draws a save from Julio Cesar with Drogba ready to pounce, but the game is over.
Jonathan Pearce wondered at the beginning of the second half about how Maicon couldn’t make the team at the 2006 World Cup. How easily Cafu is forgotten. Despite the scoreline, this side are pragmatic, because they need to be. Kaka may enter the pantheon of almost greats, but the rest of the team may only live as long in the mind as Cafu has in Pearce’s.
Thanks again to Historical Football Kits for the kind use of their graphics.