If this match report is late, it has nothing to do with this being one of four matches played on Friday, before an especially sunny and sociable weekend. Nope. It’s just taken this long to get over the trauma. Because this match? This match was horrible.
Bad games are common enough but this was far more harder to swallow than, say, Switzerland 0-0 Honduras, simply because of the talent on show. In a poor game between poor sides playing poor football, one can quite happily walk away.
The eye can wander to a paper or magazine, the hands to some other task, safe in the knowledge that you are not about to miss anything. Try doing that with Cristiano Ronaldo, Fabio Coentrao, Dani Alves and Luis Fabiano running around on the telly. It’s impossible. Surely one of the numerous world-class footballers on screen will do something outrageous in a minute and you will miss it and forever feel empty. People will ask where you were when Portugal rounded off a 70-pass move with a headstand backheel that bounced off the bar and both posts etc etc and the answer will be: ‘Oh, well I was in the room, and I heard it, but I was in the middle of a fascinating piece on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s herb garden.”
So for 90 minutes and added time, I was transfixed. And boy do I feel stupid now. Because the signs were there: a draw would see both teams through to the second round, and both managers set their teams up for one. Brazil’s hands were tied to an extent by the enforced absences of Elano and Kaka to injury and suspension respectively, Dunga also choosing to give Robinho a rest. This is one of the more stoic Brazil sides at the best of times, and the implications of removing its three most creative players were obvious in hindsight.
Carlos Queiroz made four changes to the side that put North Korea so firmly in their place. Hugo Almeida and Pedro Mendes had yellow cards to their names and so were withdrawn as a precaution. Simao and Miguel had been effective attacking options but Queiroz’s team was designed to contain Brazil. In came Duda, Danny, Ricardo Costa and Real Madrid headcase Pepe.
In fact Pepe’s mere presence on the pitch was almost a guarantee that there would be handbags, and so it proved, the Madrid defender and Juventus’ Felipe Melo spending much of the first half giving each other taps on the ankles, both men booked, Dunga withdrawing Melo before half-time to prevent an inevitable sending off.
In total six players were booked but none were sent off, with Brazilian defender Juan the luckiest of all to have stayed on the pitch. A long ball over the top of defence would have set Cristiano Ronaldo scuttling clear on goal but for Juan’s hand. Brazil were playing a high line but even though Juan handled just outside the centre circle he had surely denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. Somehow the Roma defender got away with a yellow.
When Ronaldo did get forward he was thwarted more often than not by Lucio. For those who watch a lot of Premiership football and very little else, Inter Milan’s Lucio is the defensive equivalent of Didier Drogba, i.e. he is built like a brick shithouse and spends matches alternately knocking people, and throwing himself, to the floor. Lucio just about won the battle, Ronaldo starved of service and support playing as a lone centre forward, and while there may be no finer striker of a ball in the world at the moment Brazil were happy to let him try his luck from increasing range.
Perhaps the best chance of the match fell to Brazil striker Nilmar, denied at point blank range by an outstanding Eduardo save after a Luis Fabiano cross to the back post. But this was a match of few chances, of many fouls and a bitterly disappointing contest from first whistle to last. Both teams go through to the second round so will be satisfied with both performance and result. Those of us watching just want that 90 minutes of our life back.