Monday, June 28, 2010 ESPNsoccernet: June 29, 3:06 PM UK
Brazil underline credentials
John Brewin, Ellis Park Stadium
South America are a man down, the continent's perfect tournament has come to an end with the exit of Chile. However, regional pride can be retained by the fact that their second-round exit served only to crystallise the strength of Brazil's challenge for a sixth world title.
• Fabiano fires warning
This was an undoubtedly easy win for the favourites, as they continued their habit of scoring just at the times they need to. An early glut of Chilean possession came to naught as lax defending allowed Juan to put Brazil ahead on 34 minutes. Any hopes of this providing a contest to remember ended just two minutes later with Luis Fabiano's springing of an offside trap. Thereafter, it became a case of how many for Brazil though a significant stepping off the gas saw only a Robinho strike add to their comfort zone.
A glance at the structure of the draw of South Africa 2010 allows South Americans to dream of the potential of a Soccer City final between Argentina and Brazil, the continent's twin powerhouses and deadly rivals ever since their first meeting in 1914. Their current overall record lies at 89 games played, with 33 wins each. A 34th victory might just happen in the highest-grade match of all.
Such expectations remain conjecture in the light of two tough quarter-finals in the shape of the Dutch, for Brazil, and the Germans, for Argentina. The two most in-form European teams await in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth respectively, but neither of them will be heartened at the relative ease of their next opponent's progress to the quarter-finals. They are two very different teams, both hewn in the image of their coaches as players. Brazil's strength lies in the midfield area that Dunga patrolled in three World Cups while Argentina play with the fantasy element always attached to Diego Maradona to allow them to be the aesthetic's choice.
Here, Chile's challenge was brushed aside by their loss of the midfield battle for which the credit must go to the outstanding pairing of Gilberto Silva and Ramires. Time and again, attacks broke down even before Chile could reach the twin towers of Juan and Lucio, who look as assured as any defensive pairing in this tournament. Both were able to mount long and loping runs into attacking positions because of their colleagues' primacy in the centre of the park. Ramires, standing in for the injured Felipe Melo, looks the player to eventually replace Gilberto Silva, who here looked as strong as in the 2002-winning line-up.
Movement is kept to a limited area for the former Arsenal man, and it was Ramires who made the long dribble and assist for Robinho's goal. The Manchester City refusenik bore little sign of the sulking and brooding presence who was often exiled to unhappiness on the Eastlands wings. Dunga does not expect him to track back in the fashion that Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini once did and the smile has returned, and with it the flicks, feints and attacking threat.
Luis Fabiano may not have the profile of some of his predecessors but his goal revealed his growing into the No. 9 shirt to which a nation looks to score the goals to bring the World Cup back to what is viewed as its rightful home. He is no Careca and no Ronaldo but his understated class is very Dunga, delivering results in a quiet and functional-driven fashion. His goal first looked as if it may be offside, though unlike at Soccer City the previous evening, the Johannesburg public was not granted the chance to make their own judgement on the Ellis Park video screens. FIFA's rearguard action against the horrors of video nasties continues to adopt the stance of an ostrich in the sand of the South African veldt.
Fabiano's supplier was Kaka, for whom the smile still looks some way off. Returning after his one-match suspension, he supplied a curate's egg of a performance. He may have added to his growing total of assists but never quite flourished in the manner of the classic Brazilian No.10, with signs of impatience being betrayed. There were a couple of incidents of noticeable arm-waving when he was not in receipt of the ball when he felt he should be and equally there were mutterings when his passes were not controlled properly. Should the Real Madrid man falter, then Brazil do lack the type of classic playmaker they were once supplied four of back in 1982, while injuries in midfield to Elano, Melo and Julio Baptista do restrict further options to Dunga.
Progress to the last eight was achieved as a matter of course, and as fully expected. Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa's familiar crouching position descended lower and lower as it became clear his team would not be piercing the impregnable wall provided by Brazil in front of an all-but-unemployed goalkeeper Julio Cesar. Alexis Sanchez, a star of the weekend defeat to Spain, was granted little space to attack the likes of Maicon or Michel Bastos as the huge neutral support clearly attracted to Brazil began to enjoy themselves.
Here, their status as the floating fan's favourites was compounded. It helps that they wear very similar colours to South Africa and more than a few Brazil shirts were coupled with Bafana Bafana and Springbok scarves. This is not a second-favourite team in the error-prone self-proclaimed manner of Newcastle United in the 90s or a pre-oil Manchester City. Brazil supply glory to those locals now bereft of a team still in the tournament. They are a ticket to involvement in the later stages. After the Dutch, lie one of Uruguay and Ghana and in this winning form, so far delivered with a noticeable economy of danger or nerves, they look nailed on for a return to Soccer City on July 11.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Gilberto Silva. Vintage stuff from the veteran, who broke up play and supplied his more creative compadres with quality balls in a fashion his coach would have been proud of.
BRAZIL VERDICT: When asked after the match to describe Brazil's weaknesses, Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa replied with a curt "they have just beaten us 3-0". Indeed, this was a no-frills and no-thrills performance from Dunga's team. The job was done amid little threat and they were able to relax ahead of their match with the Dutch. That they are yet to be tested remains the big question.
CHILE VERDICT: Desperate disappointment. Bielsa has one style of play, and it failed here once Juan was left to nod in the opener. Prior to that, the pretty patterns had never posed too much of a threat despite a great deal of possession. A slim hope became no hope and this was as comprehensive a defeat as the same country dealt them at the same stage at France '98.
HOWARD'S (IN THE WAY): English participation in the tournament is now retained by referee Howard Webb and his assistants. Here, he angered Dunga by booking Kaka after what the Brazil coach said had been extreme provocation from defenders but gave an admirable showing in holding little truck with play-acting. One note of caution: as too often happens in the Premier League, his eagerness to keep up with play saw him get in the way of intricate passing movements. Refs should be seen and not hit.