Going into this match, one would have thought that Australia were the favourites to win this match. The confidence of their supporters (which ranges from a bright, sunny optimism to a vaguely niggling arrogance) was largely responsible for this, though it was also helped by Brazil’s poor performance against Croatia. Everybody watching Brazil last week was shocked by the way that they played. What most people looking at it all had forgotten, though, was that Australia were no better than the Japanese for the opening eighty minutes of their opening match, and that a large part of their win was to do with a Japan team that flagged badly in the midday heat.
As it turned out, it was a little like six onf one, and half a dozen of the other. Australia played very well, and can consider themselves unfortunate not have earnt a point out of this, and for Brazil, this win, that sees them through to the second round with a game to spare, their actual level of performance raises as many questions as it answers, although it does have to be said… given the amount of hype that has surrounded them, was it ever going to be any different?
Brazil bossed the first half. Defensively sound, but their lack of a cutting edge up front was clearly evident. Ronaldo’s performance was poor again (commentator Jon Champion noted that the Brazilians are more likely to pick players on reputation than other countries, and I’m inclined to agree with him), and Ronaldinho again looked anonymous, even though the sound of sixty-six thousand people holding their breath was clearly audible every time he got hold of the ball. A quick mention too must go to Roberto Carlos. Now, we all remember that free-kick against France at Le Tournoi in 1997 (if you don’t, it’s available here). Has he actually done anything even close to it in the nine years since then? Time and again this evening he ballooned shots high and wide from free-kicks this afternoon – surely Brazil must have better players than him to take these?
When Brazil took the lead, Ronaldo was involved, but only insofar as he stood there and laid off a simple ball for Adriano to put the ball past Schwarzer. This brought about a change in Australia, who had given the impression of wanting to put eleven players behind the ball to get a goalless draw. One felt that, had they played with a more cavalier attitude from the start, they could have got more out of the game. Harry Kewell missed an open goal (cue sighs of recognition from watching Liverpool supporters), Breschiano stretched Dida, and Brazil, again, were hanging on for dear life. The second goal, when it came about, was as much about Australian tiredness as anything else. Robinho (brought on again for Ronaldo, he again provided them with a cutting edge that they’d lacked before. How much longer can they justify his presence on the pitch?) hit the post, and the inprobably-named substitute Fred tapped the ball in.
It would be easy, at this point, to write off Brazil’s chances of winning this tournament at all. They’ve had two flattering wins against enthusiastic, if limited, opposition. However, they can improve (as we all surely appreciate), and their confidence will surely grow with each match. We all know what Ronaldinho is capable of, and he hasn’t shown it yet. If Carlos Alberto Parreira has the balls to drop a clearly out of shape Ronaldo for Robinho (who has been similarly out of form this season, but surely can’t do any worse than old Tubby), they have the ability to beat anybody in the world. As for Australia… I’ll tip them to get through, largely because they only need a draw against Croatia, and Croatia haven’t shown much of the attacking flair that they’re going to need to get past Lucas Neill and company. This result will, however, have provided them with something of a reality check, and that might prove to be more valuable to them in the long run than anything else.