Brazil 0-1 France
Ah, the almighty, all-conquering Brazil. Ever since they qualified at a canter last year, we’ve been told that, really, no-one else need turn up for this year’s World Cup. They were a shoo-in to win. No question. And now… they’re off home, leaving an all-European semi-final round for the first time since 1982. Last night against France, they were feeble. It was the first time that they had come against really world class opposition, and it showed. The French used their experience to snuff out the Golden Quartet, and Brazil were limited to just a couple of shots on target all evening. This wasn’t samba football. This was a disgrace to the famous yellow shirts. For the last two weeks, those of us that dared to question Nike’s yellow machine after anaemic performances against Croatia and Australia were shouted down. They improved against a dispirited Japan side, but even in the second round they were flattered beyond belief by the scoreline against Ghana. They had the look of a team that wasn’t going all the way.
For the first sixty minutes, France played like world champions. Gallas, Makelele and Sagnol swept up everything that the Brazilians could throw at them, and Henry’s goal, while there may have been a touch of the offsides about it, was brilliantly taken and thoroughly deserved. Ronaldo couldn’t get near anything, and Ronaldinho, who has had a terrible, terrible tournament, didn’t even look particularly interested by the last ten minutes. Louis Saha could even have doubled the lead in the dying seconds, and was stopped only by a terrific save from Dida – one of the few Brazilian players who has emerged from this World Cup with their credibility intact.
Make no mistake about it, though, this was as much about France’s organisation and guile as it was about Brazil’s lack of creative endeavour. Willy Sagnol in particular has come on in leaps and bounds over the course of this tournament, but it is Thierry Henry that is proving to be the single biggest reason why they could suddenly be looking at a date with the Germans or the Italians in Berlin on July 9th. At the start of the tournament, Henry was playing like he does for Arsenal, but wasn’t getting the service that he gets at Highbury. One can only assume that Domenech has sat him down and had a chat with him, as he’s now playing unrecognisably from the role that he plays throughout the winter – he’s adjusted his play to fit in with the French system.
For Brazil, though, it’s back to the drawing board. Is it too simplistic to say that the likes of Ronaldinho were simply exhausted after a domestic season of fifty or sixty matches? Possibly. Brazil simply looked disinterested for periods in all of their matches, and one couldn’t help but think that their players had arrived in Germany having believed some of the hype about themselves. Whether it’s a mistake that they will make again or not, I don’t know. They were also strangled by Carlos Alberto Parreira’s tactics, and the French game-plan worked perfectly. A date in Berlin next Sunday awaits them.