Brazil brought joy to the Zimbabwean people but left Harare sweating over an injury to goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The Selecao wrapped up a low-key victory over the Warriors but will hope that the early withdrawal of the Inter Milan No.1 will be no more than a necessary precaution.
The match was the first for Carlos Dunga’s men in the build up to their June 15 World Cup opener against DPR Korea. The injury to Cesar is thought to be a back complaint, with the ‘keeper exiting the game with less than 30 minutes played. No word has yet come from the Brazil camp on the seriousness or otherwise of the star’s problem, but as a nation they have suffered more than most with pre-tournament injuries to likes of Emerson and Romario in recent competitions. Tottenham Hotspur stopper Heurelho Gomes played the remaining hour, and is a more than able deputy, but in the heat of action Brazil will be desperate to call upon one of the top-three goalkeepers in the world right now.
The game itself saw Brazil line up with the team likely to face DPR Korea in two weeks time, save for AC Milan’s Thiago Silva in for Juan at the heart of the defence. Douglas Maicon and Michel Bastos slotted in at full-back while Lucio was back to captain the side following his Champions League success with Inter. The midfield consisted of the holding pair of Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo – with Elano Blumer and Robinho occupying the flanks. Talisman Kaka took up his usual role in the hole behind Luis Fabiano. A 60 000 sell-out greeted the Samba boys as the football-mad Zimbabweans took the opportunity to watch the first non-African team to play the home side, and not just any side, but the Brazil of Pele, Garrincha and Ronaldo – even if they did don unfamiliar blue shirts. And for 40 minutes the hosts did their countrymen proud with a dogged, up-tempo display. Twice they went close through Benjani Mwaruwari and Ovidy Karuru but two goals in three minutes at the end of the first-half all but won the match for Dunga’s men. First Lyon wide-man Bastos blasted in a left-footed free-kick from 20 yards out, before a cute pass by Maicon, with the outside of his right boot, beat the off-side trap and allowed Robinho to lift home cleverly. Substitutes Dani Alves and Julio Baptista then played a wonderful one-two on the edge of the box to allow Alves to square to the unmarked Elano, who slotted in on the hour.
As with all friendlies, it’s unnecessary to look too closely at the finer details of the match. For Dunga and his staff it was a chance to give the first-choice XI a run-out after a three-week break for the majority of the squad. Getting reacquainted with teammates and rediscovering rhythm is more important at this stage than blowing aside the opposition. As it was, Zimbabwe provided a decent work-out for the Selecao and they will look to up their preparations in training and in their next outing on Monday against Tanzania in Dar es Salaam.
At this stage it’s fair to say there are no surprises from the Brazilians. The team that will line up on June 15 is likely to be the same as that which kicked off against Zimbabwe, assuming Julio Cesar has suffered nothing too serious and Juan has recovered from the knock that kept him on the sidelines. Alves looked bright – as he often does coming on as a substitute in the wide-right role – but unless Maicon breaks down between now and the first game, he will be warming the bench in Johannesburg. And the same goes for the rest of the squad, it’s going to take something pretty special for Dunga to abandon the principles and set-up that have got him this far. Whether it is enough to secure a sixth world crown remains to be see.