The problem with the Confederations Cup, aside from those bloody, bloody, bloody vuvuzela air horns, is that it brings about more mismatches (in terms of quality) than even the World Cup. However, you’d not necessarily have pegged this game as being one. If the orthodox Anglocentric viewpoint is to be accepted – that ‘we’ invent sports so brilliant everyone in the world adopts them and then get good enough to beat us hollow – this match represents a battle between the great old new-world football power and the coming colossus. In reality, the hardworking-but-useless USA team were taken to pieces by a Brazil side who, moving more into their stride now, could turn goalscoring opportunities on or off as it pleased them. 3-0 it finished and, as the old saying goes, the US were lucky to get nil.
Brazil coach Dunga said that jet-lag was at least partially responsible for his side’s lacklustre display against Egypt on Monday and so had made 4 changes to his starting eleven. This is a large number of changes to make in an entire tournament let alone between games, so is the sort of bold decision which is prone to making a manager’s reputation or else getting them in a lot of trouble. The USA, who had been neat and tidy if little else in their defeat by a typically chaotic Italy on Monday night, had made two changes, one enforced by Ricardo Clark’s dismissal in their previous game.
It was one of Brazil’s newcomers who had the biggest effect on their fortunes. Inter full-back Maicon reminded you of a string of great Brazilian players from days of yore, galloping up and down the right flank with great effect. His delivery from dead balls was also outstanding, and it was again a set play which gave Brazil their opening, Arsenal target Felipe Melo easily heading in at the far post after a line of American defenders failed to deal with Maicon’s free kick.
Brazil’s set pieces have been excellent throughout their opening two games, perhaps taking their opponents by surprise. Well-drilled dead ball routines are something one would much more readily associate with a team like the USA, who happily proved my point with 20 minutes on the clock. DaMarcus Beasley completely miscontrolled a short corner from Landon Donovan and, a few swift passes from Kaka and Ramires later, it was 2-0. Ramires slid the ball through for Robinho who finished with such ease he celebrated by running to the perimeter of the playing field behind the goal and giving an interview to an outstretched microphone.
The US team looked hopelessly outclassed and Brazil could easily have doubled or even trebled their advantage by half time, Gilberto Silva heading over after more fine work from Maicon and Kaka – who had a quietly effective game punctuated by moments of magic – carving out a few opportunities for himself which he couldn’t quite finish. Of course, the Brazilians had taken a two-goal cushion into the second half against Egypt, only to be given the runaround by a motivated opponent for 44 and a half minutes. The US, with manager Bob Bradley’s temples throbbing admirably, introduced the prolific MLS striker Conor Casey with a view to bolstering their attacking options and pulling an Egypt, but his team scarcely managed a shot on goal throughout. Any possibility of a comeback – or even resistance – was ended on 57 minutes when midfielder Sascha Kljestan was dismissed for a wild and woolly sliding tackle on Ramires. Five minutes on, Brazil duly added a third, Ramires and Kaka intricately picking their way down the right side and playing in Maicon, who finished from a narrow angle.
In essence, this game was about the relative values of hard work versus talent. The USA ran about diligently but lacked any real spark, their best efforts for what would have been a thoroughly undeserved consolation goal coming through Donovan – easily their most gifted player – in the final few minutes when their opponents were already thinking about the bath salts and rubber duckies. Brazil, on the other hand, had so much of an advantage in terms of raw skill that they were rarely stretched, extending the game past jogging pace only when the mood took them. Question marks remain about how they will fare against better opposition. However, for now, they have very much manoeuvred themselves into a position of being serious players in the 2009 Confederations Cup. Was it ever really going to be in doubt?