BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

Portugal promised a festival of football and so it was delivered although probably not the football they would have wanted to showcase.

Firstly to the Ivory Coast who play North Korea with the only hope of qualifying from the group coming in the Africans putting over half a dozen goals in and hoping that Brazil beat Portugal. The prospects of these two events eclipsing is remote but the Africans get their hunt off to a good start with early goals from Yaya Touré and Romaric and one chalked off when Emmanuel Eboue found Didier Drogba who – while offside – showed what the Elephants had been missing owing to his injury.

The North Koreas are going home. They won hearts with a good performance against Brazil but at 1-0 to Portugal were brave enough to go forward and hunt out a goal that could have seen the qualify. Portugal put in six in the second half and Korea were humiliated providing a cautionary tale for the likes of New Zealand and Slovenia who exited after trying to keep games tight and – unsuccessfully – nick the odd goal.

One wonders when we shall see North Korea again – it was forty four years between this appearance and the last – but one wishes them well. They are representing an unrepresented people – the World’s only Necrocracy if you will – and if those people felt the freedom of football for a short time then that is no bad thing.

The freedom of football is hardly relevant as Brazil play Portugal. Portuguese and Brazilian football are yoked together in the game’s culture and this game would not be out of place in the Sao Paulo leagues which are a long way from the Golden Shirts of 1970.

Brazil’s league football is a hard game and a scrappy game with every team employing the same type of two Dungaistas – which is to say spoiling holding midfielders – which the man who gives his name to the player’s Brazil team do. The flair players – the skilful element which the rest of the World looks at the South American country and assume populate the leagues – are often fighting a battle against teams who employ dirty tactics and often violent play.

The top of the leagues – and there are many leagues in Brazil – are a cream but the rank and file of football where winning is more important than style play a type of brutal football, a cynical football, which has emerged in this afternoon’s game between the Samba nation and their European opposite number.

The game is often broken up with small, dirty fouls that stop play and when the ball is pinged from Tiago up to Cristiano Ronaldo Juan’s hand breaks up play forty yards from goal to get a yellow card. Tiago is booked for diving and at half time the Referee has applied seven yellow cards with the only chance of note being Luis Fabiano at the far post trying to convert but seeing Eduardo push the ball onto the bar and it come out.

It is Brazilian football – a feast of it – but not the sort of Brazilian football we know.

Football fails to break out in the second half although Ronaldo’s run with the ball over forty-five yards was the closest that came. Ronaldo was tackled by the brilliant Lúcio but his poke out rolled to Raul Meireles who should have finished, but didn’t, and trod on Júlio César.

Ronaldo – oddly – seems to be the best behaved player on the field falling not once under the pressure Lúcio puts him under all game and perhaps one is left to reflect that the Portuguese captain enjoys being unique in his bad behaviour and when everyone acts in the same way it is less enjoyable for him.

The scrappy game seems set to drag to a draw and should it do Brazil will top the group while Portugal will be second leaving the Ivory Coast returning to West Africa with heavy hearts. The loss of Drogba in a friendly with South Korea in the build up robbed Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side of a player of the highest quality and it was the anticipation of his return which seemed to cast a shadow over the game with Portugal.

Perhaps the players lacked belief without their captain, either way it was that game and a failure to win it which has cost them a place in the second round. They had the potential to go far but stalled in that opening game and go home without a manager – Eriksson’s next stop is reported to be Fulham in the Premier League – and with much building to do to start creating a team post-Drogba.

One can expect the Chelsea forward to carry on in the Ivory Coast side for some years but as his powers diminish the rest of the squad have to emerge lest they return to the footballing wilderness. Arthur Boka sends over a cross from the left and Salomon Kalou gives a third goal agianst the Koreans.

Brazil and Portugal are booed and whistled at as they grind out a dour goalless draw that sees both progress. They have geared down for the game and there is a suspicion that teams which do that may find it hard to get back up to speed.

If this happens to both these teams then it will be just rewards for an insipid game of football.

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