Brazil 1-0 Croatia
God. Before the match, the BBC took a good half an hour that could have been used up with public information films eulogising Brazil. This was, if you believed Gary Lineker, the greatest team ever to play football. It wasn’t a question of whether they would win the World Cup, it was a matter of how easy it would be for them. Alan Hansen, Leonardo & Ian Wright dutifully lined up to pay tribute to them, and then we were off to the stadium. Any hopes that it would improve lasted about 15 seconds. You could almost hear the bubble of drool forming in the corner of Mark Lawrenson’s mouth. Try not to dwell on that mental image for too long. Meanwhile, John Motson was running out of superlatives. It was a sickly-sweet Brazil fest. They could do nothing wrong. And then…
…Nothing. No inspiration whatsoever. Ronaldinho looked utterly isolated on the left. Ronaldo… christ. More on him later. They had no shape, were playing the match practically at walking pace, and treating it more like another exhibition match (although this is perhaps unsurprising, given that the only matches they’ve played in the last three or four months or so have been against amateur club sides and New Zealand). Fortunately for them, Croatia seemed largely unconcerned by this. Their tactic seemed to be pass the ball around their back four for aaages, and then loft an over-optimistic pass straight through to a grateful looking Dida.
Then, just before half-time, The Curse Of The Co-Commentator struck. After forty minutes of commentary descending from superlatives into near-silence, Lawrenson piped up saying “you know, i don’t think Brazil are playing that well tonight”. Thirty seconds later, Kaka curled one into the top corner and that was that.
In the second half, Croatia (who had looked petrified in the tunnel before the match) actually started to play. Realising that Brazil’s defence has a combined age of 576, and that they were visibly wilting under the heat, they went for them, hell-for-leather. It nearly paid off, too. Dida made a couple of smart saves. We even had a streaker (although they cheated somewhat by wearing a Croatia shirt). It was, as the BBC had studiously avoided mentioning in their dash towards Hyperbole Mountain, a match.
As for Ronaldo… well. Where to start. If you thought the French looked disinterested earlier tonight, he took it to a whole new level. Quite asides from this, his weight appears to have ballooned to about 19 stone. Out of shape, out of touch and out of form. He was replaced by Robinho after 65 minutes, and Brazil re-gained some of their shape. This was a piss-poor performance from a striker that I believe got lucky in 2002 with a run of matches against very average opponents. He’ll be lucky to start against Australia on Sunday.
At the end of the whole sorry spectacle, the BBC’s panel were almost lost for words. This apparently invincible Brazil side had laboured to win against a limited but effective Croatia team. The parallels between them and England are striking. An out-of-shape “star” striker”. A 1-0 win against mediocre opposition. The only difference was that England’s defence looked tight enough to not concede unnecessary goals. Brazil’s defence, creaking like the oldest piece of furniture in the antique shop, did. Dida had a great game, and Croatia wasted some good opportunities. That’s all there was between them and a draw or, perhaps, even a win. I shall wait with interest to see whether they get the slating that England did after Saturday’s match against Paraguay. I’m not holding my breath, though.