Thank God for Croatia
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Kaka saves Brazilâ€™s dull day out
We never thought weâ€™d say this in a Brazil match but thank God for Croatia. The team from the Balkans was inventive, purposeful, energetic, and completely unawed by the world champions, and should have gone away with a point.
Instead, Brazil began their campaign on a winning note, Kakaâ€™s sweetly struck volley just before half time doing the damage. After the match coach Carlos Alberto Parreira pointed out that teams aiming to win the World Cup must pace themselves but at this pace Brazil should be looking at lifting the trophy in 2010, not a month from now.
Much of their problem stemmed from their strike force of Ronaldo and Adriano (though for Brazil everyone is a goalscorer), and it is a moot point that the only goal came from a midfielder. Ronaldo, in what was his 100th Brazil match, was palpably unfit; not injured, just overweight. Brazilâ€™s reputation has grown since they last won the World Cup, but in Ronaldoâ€™s case only his shadow has got bigger. Too slow to respond to the quicksilver wiles of Ronaldinho and Kaka, he was mercifully taken off just after the hour.
And the sparkle shown by his replacement, his Real Madrid teammate Robinho, means Parreira will have a problem keeping the younger player out of the starting line-up.
Brazilâ€™s troubles lie elsewhere too. The fact that Croatia enjoyed 50 per cent of the possession is proof of their ability to win the ball in central midfield, where Emerson and Ze Roberto were too often outwitted, especially by Kovac and Babic, the latter also selling Cafu a brilliant dummy towards the end.
Though Cafu and Roberto Carlos, with 69 years between them, were not embarrassed today, the pressure will be immense over the next few matches. Harry Kewell, in particular, should enjoy his duel with Brazilâ€™s captain on Sunday.
Their next two opponents will be tricky. Australia are on a high after their incredibly last-gasp win, further boosting their typical Oz superconfidence. Japan will be desperate to open their account, and should benefit from some inside knowledge provided by their coach.
The ultimate truth, however, is that one writes off Brazil at their peril. Parreira says a slow build-up is part of their plans and in any case we are not dealing with a team of mere mortals. It takes a moment for Kaka, or Ronaldinho, to change the match. It may take substantially longer for Ronaldo to find his form but they didnâ€™t need him yesterday.
Conclusion: Brazil have the making of a winning team but must step up at least a couple of gears if they arenâ€™t to be overtaken, possibly much before the home straight.