Brazil might have comfortably secured their place in the last 16 but any thoughts that Group G is done and dusted are very much misplaced. There’s all to play for and a match of historical consequence with Portugal will keep the favela faithful more than interested in events in Durban on Friday night.
Sunday’s outing against the Ivory Coast saw the Brazilians give probably the most complete performance of the tournament so far. From front to back they showed the solidity and ruthlessness that has seen the boys from the Brazil claim the Copa America, Confederations Cup and Olympic bronze medal in Carlos Dunga’s four-years in charge. Yes Argentina have looked prettier in claiming three wins from three, while Germany have hinted at a flair-filled future, but on the evidence shown – it’s going to take something special to defeat Brazil.
While collectively the Selecao hinted at their strength, worryingly for the opposition, individually as well, the side’s big hitters have limbered into action as the business end of the tournament kicks in. Luis Fabiano’s record since becoming a national team regular has been nothing short of sensational, with a strike rate of one in two – the mark of a world class front-man. But injury and a loss of form for his club side Sevilla, in addition to a nine-month goal drought for Brazil, had caused some to query whether he had it in him to lead a side to glory. Two swishes of his right boot against Ivory Coast have answered those doubts and confidence must be high with so much left to achieve.
Kaka too had hinted at better days to come by laying on two of the three goals, while Felipe Melo and Robinho exhibited the form that had led to big money moves over the last two years for both men. However, while the credit column was well and truly topped up on Sunday, a massive debit came in form of the farcical sending off of Kaka five minutes from time. To call it the worst decision of all time may go some way to explaining the ridiculousness of it. The Madrid-man was already on a yellow card when Ivorian substitute Kader Keita fell into him and fell over, clutching his face. Referee Stephane Lannoy clearly didn’t see the incident, and with the linesman on the other side of the pitch, it’s difficult to know quite who, in a position of authority, came to the conclusion that the Brazilian was guilty. His laugh of disbelief as he left the pitch said it all.
Some will argue that with Brazil already through, the loss of their number ten is not a matter of concern for Friday’s date with the Portuguese, but that would ignore Portugal’s 7-0 dismantling of North Korea. Victory for Carlos Queiroz’s side will see them top the group and that would have interesting repercussions for Dunga’s men. With the Spanish lurking in Group H and still hopeful of topping the table, despite their unlikely defeat to the Swiss in game one, a last-16 meeting with the Selecao would be very much on the cards should defeat come on Friday. With this in mind it leaves one somewhat confused with the Brazilians decision not to appeal Kaka’s sending-off even though Dunga was livid on the touchline at the time.
As mentioned above, Portugal versus Brazil carries significance beyond the football pitch.
The Portuguese ruled country for 300 hundred years until the early 19th century and in turn left a large part of their culture, including the language. Unsurprisingly, like all matters set within this historical context, matches between these two sides carry something extra when compared to regular fixtures. Despite England giving football to Brazil, their playing style mirrors that of their Portuguese cousins – often called the Brazilians of Europe, although it can get forgotten in the heat of battle. Although there have been 18 meetings in total, only one has taken place within the confines of the World Cup when Eusebio’s Portugal bullied Pele’s Brazil off the Goodison Park pitch in 1966 as they ran out 3-1 winners in a brutal tie. Incidentally, the most recent meeting back in November 2008 saw the Portuguese humiliated as Brazil ran out 6-2 winners to set up the urge for revenge on the part of the Cristiano Ronaldo and co.
So despite not broken sweat yet in the competition, the Brazilians will be know a lack of concentration at this late stage could set them on a course they’d rather not follow.