Brazil 4-1 Japan / Australia 2-2 Croatia
What, exactly, possessed the BBC make Brazil-Japan their featured match? Anyone looking at the schedule after the draw would have been able to tell you that the battle for second place in this group was going to be between Australia and Croatia. Well, not the BBC, who seem to think that we’d prefer to watch Ronaldinho & company in an exhibition match than a genuine piece of footballing drama mixed with tragi-comedy. Now, I’ve got Digital TV, so I could flick over to channel 701, but many people still don’t have that option. They should think these things through a bit harder. Because if you missed Croatia-Australia, you missed a genuine World Cup classic.
First of all, though, Brazil. Well, woo hoo. Ronaldo scored twice. You’ll forgive me if I don’t recant my previous comments about his condition, because, frankly, I could have scored against that Japanese defence. I mean, he’s a bit tubby and everything, but they didn’t really need to leave him unmarked on the edge of the penalty every time Brazil attacked. The Japanese opened the scoring, demonstrating a defensive weakness that Argentina haven’t yet shown, but once The New Big Ron (I should copyright that) levelled things up, it was one-way traffic. The freakshow also took the attention away from a magnificent performance by Robinho, but they may well suit Brazil going into the second round. I don’t expect Ghana to be able to deal with their attack, but I still fancy that Brazil will struggle against stronger opposition. I should also give a special mention to Ronaldinho, who is continuing his run of not looking very much like The World’s Greatest Footballer (I should be wary about using that phrase – I think Nike already own the copyright) with considerable comfort. Consider this: Ronaldo has scored more goals without even running than all of England’s strikers put together so far.
The real excitement, though came in Stuttgart, where a perfect second-minute free-kick against the Aussies from Srna (not, strangely enough, yet another of my speciality typoes) gave Zeldjo Kalac the perfect start to his World Cup. His evening didn’t get much better. Just before half-time, Craig Moore levelled from the spot after Graham Poll had sptted a handball by Tomas. A good call. With Croatia needing to win, we were set for an extraordinary second half. Kalac had fumbled a couple of crosses in the first half, but nothing could have prepared the Australians for the way that he juggled and spilt Kovac’s shot into the net. 2-1 Croatia, and suddenly Australia had it all to do again. Unbelievably, Kalac is the reserve for Dida at Milan. Expect an attempt on Dida’s life just before the Italian transfer window closes this autumn. Harry Kewell was the man who fired the Australians level, taking advantage of uncharacteristically slack Croatian defending. No debate over it being offside. It wasn’t.
Then things all went a bit mad. Poll had already sent off two players, when he gave Simonic a second yellow card. Trouble is… he forgot to send him off. It required a third yellow card some way into injury time before he noticed. Oops. Apparently, he’s been sent home already. He stands to have the biggest impact of anyone English on this World Cup. Fortunately, it didn’t make any difference. This is more like it. This is what the World Cup is all about. Australia deserve their place in the second round, and Italy could be just the sort of team that they could turn over. Let’s hope that, should they be successful, they celebrate it with some dignity.