Monday, June 21, 2010
Brazil increase their repertoire
On Sunday night, the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg witnessed Brazil's remarkable step forward in their quest to conquering a sixth World Cup title. After their 3-1 victory over Ivory Coast, Dunga's team guaranteed their spot in the second round and will very likely play against Portugal for first place of the group in their third match of the World Cup this coming Friday.
• Fabiano admits handball goal
• Photo gallery
However, Brazil's victory brought more significant elements to the side than the three points. At certain times in the match, it was hard to believe that the exact same starting XI that had so much difficulty in breaking down North Korea were actually playing quite creative football against the much tougher Ivory Coast. Brazil recovered certain elements of their game that for a long time had been their trademarks and now appeared to be lost. For the first time, they were able to invent consistently while respecting Dunga's disciplined approach and defensive focus.
Luis Fabiano's first strike, a missile that goalkeeper Boubacar Barry barely saw, gave the team some badly needed confidence. In this case, the goal did not arrive through a set piece or a counter-attack but was the outcome of a well-built offensive play in which Kaka did well to get rid of two defenders and ended up setting up O Fabuloso.
This play could prove instrumental for Brazil's development during the rest of the tournament, as it put an end to Luis Fabiano's six-match drought with the national team, and gave Kaka the confidence to keep going at defenders and create chances for his team-mates after putting in some subpar displays following his injury.
"Nothing better than talent to break a good defence," Brazilian legend Tostao told Folha de Sao Paulo after the match. "The first goal was key for Brazil to dominate the flow of the game."
And, indeed, from that point onwards Brazil took control of the match, and kept possession, even if at times not making too much of an effort to go forward. At the beginning of the second half, just as Ivory Coast were starting to show signs of waking up, Luis Fabiano scored one of those goals that will be shown in every single 'Best Goals of the World Cup' programme from now on.
The fact that he controlled the ball with his arm was surprisingly overlooked by French referee Stephane Lannoy, but his amazing piece of skill with both legs (right to dribble two players, left to finish emphatically) deserved a goal. "When our players score using their hands, they do it much better than the Argentineans," Estado de Sao Paulo writer Marcos Caetano said, comparing Luis Fabiano's goal with Diego Maradona's against England in 1986, and not wasting the chance to provoke Brazil's archrivals.
After watching their first-choice striker grab the match by the scruff of the neck, the team felt so self-assured that they started to show a hitherto unknown passing game, taking advantage of Ivory Coast's apparent shock. The third goal duly arrived, again as a result of great link-up play, and delivered by Kaka to Elano, in another example of the confidence recovered by Brazil's iconic playmaker.
Once 3-0 up and with the match effectively over, Brazil made one of their few mistakes: Ivory Coast started to increase their physical aggressiveness on the pitch, especially after Kader Keita and Romaric entered the game, and the Brazilians did not keep their cool. In an unfitting finale given his excellent performance, Kaka was sent off after seeing his second booking for lightly pushing Keita away from the ball.
Dunga vented his frustration during the press conference: "It's difficult to play artistic football when the referee lets strong tackling and dirty faults go unpunished, as it was the case this evening."
Despite the disappointing ending for the Brazilians, seeing his biggest star red-carded and suffering an unexpected goal from Didier Drogba, this match gave a more optimistic feel to the campaign of the verde-amarela in this World Cup. Against a powerful opponent, the side reinforced their identity: the synchronisation between the back four is almost perfect, the defensive coverage provided by the midfielders to the full backs - especially to the impressive Maicon - happens with Swiss precision, and the forwards' talent appears often enough.
However, they have just added another weapon to their repertoire: the ability to manage the flow of the match with the ball, which makes them an even bigger candidate for the title than they already were.
"To most of the Brazilian journalists, this was the most difficult match of the first phase, and Brazil played their best football in a while. They have earned the right to dream of the title," ESPN Brasil analyst Paulo Vinicius Coelho said. As is the case with any great side, one poor match can create national panic in Brazil, but a good showing puts the whole country in heaven - at least for another four days.