As statements go it was pretty emphatic: Brazil are up and running and mean business in their quest for a sixth World Cup. From front to back the South Americans were impressive as they laid down a marker for the business end of the tournament and put the Ivory Coast ’s participation in the competition at real risk.
However, all this was overshadowed by the sending off of star-man Kaka for two yellow cards in three mad second-half minutes with the game drawing to a close. The red card, Kaka’s first at this level, means he’ll miss the final Group G encounter against Portugal, but faces a nervous wait to see whether the FIFA Disciplinary Committee extend his one-match ban for violent conduct. The sending-off was controversial given that referee Lannoy didn’t appear to see the incident – which involved Kader Keita running into Kaka. There was further bad news when Elano was stretchered off following a horrific tackle by Cheik Tiote.
The 3-1win may have been marred but victory means the Selecao are into the last-16 with a match to spare and tellingly with their star perfomers in Luis Fabiano and Kaka playing themselves into the form their reputations are built on. The Brazilians lined-up with the same XI that laboured to an opening- tournament win against Korea DPR as boss Dunga retained his favoured personnel. Opponents Ivory Coast gave a start to the African continent’s most revered player, Didier Drogba, who once again donned a protective cast on his broken elbow.
Almost immediately it was clear that the Elephants’ head coach Sven Goran Eriksson was not going to veer too far away from the template laid down by the Koreans in Monday’s match.
All players, including Drogba, retreated deep into their own half to fill in the spaces when ever Brazil broke into attack. Also evident was the special attention the Ivorians had in mind for Kaka. The 28-year-old playmaker was immediately crowded out by up to three opponents every time he came into possession of the ball. This meant the best outlet for the Brazilians was right-back Douglas Maicon in the first quarter of the game as both sides struggled to carve out any real openings.
However, an improvement from the previous outing was the tempo at which the Brazilians played the game. Individually as well it seemed as if all players in yellow had upped their game up by a ten per cent or so. And if there were any doubts about Kaka’s ability to impact the game at the highest level, he proved those doubters wrong with a beautifully simple through ball which allowed Luis Fabiano to end his goal drought and fire his side into the lead. The goal game as a result of Kaka getting the wrong side of the Ivorian’s midfield trio for the first time in the match and he executed the pass wonderfully.
The goal liberated the Selecao stars in terms of the amount of space they were able to operate in, with both Maicon and fellow full-back Michel Bastos finding ample room on both flanks. This in turn widened the pitch and allowed Robinho and Kaka to grow increasingly more influential as the first-half drew on. Both Dunga and Gilbert Silva had predicted a better performance from their side given that two-well matched teams invariably offer more in attack.
Despite these observations, the game’s standout performers initially were defensive in terms of captain Lucio, who was again immaculate in taming Drogba, and was the starting point of his side’s attacks with slaloming runs from deep on a number of occasions. But it was Felipe Melo in the defensive midfield role who was the standout performer with an exhibition in sensing danger, destroying it and keeping the passes simple. He was everything he was not for club-side Juventus last season.
Fabiano doubled the score and his tally with a well-taken second – although there was more than a hint of handball in the build up. Kaka again hinted at better times to come from a personal point of view, in terms of his form, with a run down the left and a cross for Elano to make it three. Victory means the potentially explosive final group G match against former colonialist-masters Portugal will have more riding on it for the Portuguese. Tantalisingly it might also set-up for last-clash with Spain given the Spanish loss to Switzerland in their Group H match. There’s also the interesting prospect of an all-South American clash with surprise package Chile, who finished second to Brazil in qualifying. Whether Kaka will be line-up is now in FIFA’s hands.