Friday, June 25, 2010
Players fail to start the party
Jayaditya Gupta, Durban Stadium
Great stadium, great weather, great crowd. Shame about the scoreline but somehow one knew this would happen: the result didn't matter for either team - the half-time score confirmed that Ivory Coast were still more than half a dozen goals in arrears to even threaten Portugal - and topping the group was of little consequence given that Spain's position was up in the air.
• Portugal 0-0 Brazil
• Queiroz hails 'football feast'
• Brassell: Rivals play it safe
Great party, too, till the end when the boos rang out. It's rare that Brazil spoil a party where they are in attendance but this is Brazil in the mould of Dunga and the percentages become more important than populism.
It was a shame for the fans, who'd come from everywhere, flooding the airports at Cape Town and Durban, filling the sterile halls with colour and warmth and the sound of their full-throated choruses. Downtown Durban was a sea of yellow, with blotches of Portuguese red, the wonderful Durban - or Moses Mabhida - Stadium turned into a home ground for the selecao. The weather, too, turned suitably Mediterranean, the temperature approximately 25 degrees higher than when Brazil played their last game in Johannesburg.
This was a match whose resonance went far beyond two nations, or the 30 others in the tournament. Brazil are the story whenever they play, and Portugal are a resurgent force, so there were more than 400 reporters covering the game - including one from Pakistan. The back story was, of course, their colonial ties: Portugal had also ruled over Goa, where divisions ran deep over whom to support.
Plenty of stuff, then, to motivate the 22 men on the field but uppermost in their minds would have been the fact that they could afford to stay in their comfort zones. It would be a bit harsh to say they went through the motions but rarely did they look like playing at full tempo.
Brazil pursued their short-passing game, and fans waiting for a dribble would have to wait till the late stages when Lucio of all people came upfield for a couple of twisting runs in his own inimitable style, resembling that of an Olympic walker at top speed.
The dribbler on view - the game's brightest player - was Fabio Coentrao, who followed up his excellent display against North Korea with a performance to suggest he could be one of the finds of this tournament. He led Portugal's early attacks, weaving in from the left, forcing Maicon back and keeping him out firing range. Later, as the game settled down, he took on a more roving role and occasionally helped out in defence.
Brazil, too, can take heart from the performance of Nilmar, a rather surprising inclusion over Robinho but who gave the Brazilian fans their few moments of joy. His header from six yards out, turned onto the bar and out by Eduardo, was arguably Brazil's best chance of the game, but then the prevailing momentum took over and he too switched off, conserving his energies for Brazil's next game on Monday night.
What the match lacked was a game-changer, one moment of genius to lift the mood and change the scoreline. Cristiano Ronaldo wasn't able to match his efforts against North Korea and Kaka's absence due to suspension robbed Brazil of that one extra dimension. By the end, the fans had had enough, their whistles audible above the vuvuzelas. Brazilian fans are an emotional breed, voluble to an extent that makes Indian cricket supporters look positively detached. Even Carlos Queiroz was showing some emotion, while Dunga was windmilling his arms at Pete Townshend speed.
The blessing is that both teams can, and should, get better. For Brazil's fans, who came expecting so much and ultimately got so little, they can only take the consolation that Dunga seems to have a plan. After all, he was at the centre of things when Brazil last played out a goalless draw in the World Cup. That was the final in 1994 and Brazil won on penalties. The case for the defensive, you could say, rests.