A Helping Hand?
Brazil 3-0 Ghana
So, you’re the coach of Ghana. Your team is great going forward, but possibly slightly vulnerable defensively. You’re playing Brazil. What would your team talk be? Would you say, “Right lads, we’ve heard all about these four fantastic players that they’ve got. What shall we do about it? Well, I’ve been thinking about it, and I think they’re all over-rated. Ronaldo. Look at him. Weighs about forty stone. Don’t worry about him. Kaka? What sort of a name is that? Must be rubbish. Ronaldinho? Far too ugly to be a proper footballer. That David Beckham. He’s good looking. That’s what a real footballer looks like. Adriano? Well, lads, I’ll put it like this – have you ever heard of a footballer called Adrian? Well, obviously there’s Adrian Mutu, but he was stuffed full of the old Bolivian marching powder all the time. See, they’re all over-rated. It’s all a big advertising campaign for Nike. So, what I was thinking was this… we’ll defend on the half-way line. They’ll keep running off-side. They can’t help it! It’s all those “Samba Skills”! They get the music stuck in their heads and they can’t actually control their legs. It’s all programmed into them before they go abroad. I can’t believe no-one thought of this before! It’s so simple it’s brilliant! One more thing. Strikers – if you get into their penalty area, shoot straight at Dida. What do you mean, why? He’s a Brazilian goalkeeper, for God’s sake! They’re all rubbish! Don’t you remember Felix? He’ll spill every shot you take at him! Not too hard, though. You don’t want the rebounds to bounce too far away from our strikers!”? I thought not.
You see, going forward, you won’t see many better teams than Ghana. Going forward, they’re beautiful to watch. Slick passing, always looking to get closer to the goal, it’s easy to see how they beat the Czechs, but they were always going to lose this match, because of two factors. Firstly, their defensive strategy was utterly shambolic. It took Brazil barely six minutes to break down one of the worst offside traps I’ve ever seen at this level for Ronaldo to break out of the strolling pace that has characterised his World Cup so far and score. From then on, despite a spirited recovery during which they played the better football and had the majority of the possession, there was something depressingly inevitable about what was to follow. Secondly, they showed Brazil too much respect. They looked terrified as the camera panned along their team during the national anthems, and by the time they started playing, they were already a goal down.
Now, I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I am, I have to confess, starting to wonder. A farcical Swedish sending off against zer Germans, a ridiculous failure to send of Heinze for Argentina against Mexico, a penalty in the last seconds for Italy, and now a disallowed goal awarded to Brazil. You could almost start thinking that lightning doesn’t strike four times. But it did. Admittedly, Ghana made it easy for Brazil with their defensive “system”, but FIFA’s reluctance to do anything about a stream of bad decisions made in favour of the “big” countries could make you start thinking that the viewing figures for the latter stages of the tournament may not have been high enough four years ago.
As it was, it didn’t make any difference. Ghana’s defence meant that FIFA/the referee/the mafia didn’t actually need to step in. We still haven’t really seen what Brazil are made of yet. I remain convinced that they are carrying Ronaldo, and that able defenders will stifle him as easily as the Croatians did in their opening match. However, one can’t help but think, well, isn’t it about time somebody actually tested them?