Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Ronaldo to teammates:

"I was great! You were crap!"

This year's Brazil team has been compared to the 1982 version - regarded as the most entertaining team of all time, but not necessarily the best. I was reminded of the analogy during the Brazil-Croatia match by Ronaldo's...unenergetic display. The weakness of the '82 team was it's strikeforce, with one Brazillian journalist dismissing their 'star' forward thusly: "When Serginho plays, the ball is square." To paraphrase Brian Glanville's wonderful "The Story of the World Cup", as soon as Robinho replaced Bucky McThunderthighs (aka The Blob), the ball became round once again.

Ronaldo's lethargy carried over and affected Adriano, who looked slightly ponderous himself before the switch, at which point he suddenly looked dangerous as well. Parreira, Brazil's coach, has already guaranteed Ronaldo's starting place in the next game, which is really too bad - on this game Robinho is both more entertaining and a better fit with the natural flow provided by Ronaldinho and Kaka (nice goal, btw.)

As for their Croats, I've had a soft spot for this team since Euro '96, when as plucky upstarts they made the semis (losing to the evil Germans and the even more evil but equally magnificent Matthias Sammer), with Davor Suker seeming to conjure up goal scoring chances at will - his 25-yard lob over Peter Schmeichel remains my favorite goal of all time. Plus soccer has an interesting backstory in Croatia.

This match did a lot to rekindle my affection - first, they are damn good, Prso and Robert Kovac in particular. Second, there was so much obvious passion, yet the game never, ever became dirty - though this seems partly due to the Carnival atmosphere of most every Brazil match. But most importantly, aside from the idiot who ran onto the field, their fans were unbelievable - they're losing 1-0 and the supporters are singing and jumping and setting off flairs and roaring their team on. The upcoming Croatia - Australia game is the match I'm perhaps looking forward to as much as any besides Netherlands-Argentina in the opening round, what with the likely import (a spot in the second round), the relatively bonkers status of both teams' fans, and the fact that several Australian players are of Croatian heritage.

MoM: Kaka - very good goal and at the heart of every Brazillian attack. Though realistically all 22 Brazillians not named Ronaldo did their part...

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