WORLD CUP FOOTBALL: WALKA, WALKA – Brazil pay price for the sin of arrogance – had to walk away, did they ?!!
By Keir Radnedge
Listen carefully and any attentive journalist can almost hear the howls of anguish and anger echoing along the air corridors between Port Elizabeth and Rio de Janeiro after Brazil’s throwaway defeat at the hands of happy Holland.
The favourites are gone. Perhaps a little unluckily. They had a “good” goal disallowed and looked the more dangerous side over the first hour of the first quarter-final. But, most ironic of all, they lost because they committed the sin of which the Dutch are most usually guilty: the sin of arrogance.
Down all the years since the 1974 final, when Holland went ahead against hosts West Germany inside two minutes yet lost 2-1, the “Oranje” have lost the mind game, usually beaten by themselves, by their own internal bickering or complacency born of a conviction of superiority.
This was the mental weakness coach Bert van Marwijk went out to attack from, as he puts it, “the very first day I took this job”.
In addition to creating a new mindset within his squad, he brought an astute tactical sense. Thus Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong spent much of their afternoon shutting down the threat of Kaka.
That scheme came at a cost: De Jong will miss Holland’s semi-final against Uruguay because of a second yellow card collected in this game.
But Van Marwijk and his merry men will consider it a cost worth paying for achieving the major upset of the finals.
Not that England, Italy and France tumbling was not a hat-trick of shocks: but Brazil’s exit was more thunderous because of their record status and the last-eight stage of the competition.
Last year, Brazil came to the Confederations Cup here to assess the lie of the land. In the final, they went 2-0 down to the United States within 27 minutes then hauled themselves back without too much difficulty to win 3-2.
All the key components of that team were in Port Elizabeth: Julio Cesar in goal, Maicon and skipper Lucio in defence, Felipe Melo and Kaka in midfield, Luis Fabiano and Robinho in attack.
Perhaps that was one of the reasons they thought they could take it easy. This was South Africa: this is where we win, whatever the conditions.
Another reason may be found in Brazil’s opening campaign. This was supposed to be a “Group of Death” with Portugal and Ivory Coast as well as the unknowns of North Korea.
The latter were seen off 2-1 at half-pace, Ivory Coast had been undermined by Didier Drogba’s arm fracture and the grumpy goalless draw against the old colonial masters was a virtual irrelevance.
Chile were dismissed with arrogant three-goal ease in the second round; then Brazil raced a goal ahead in 10 minutes against Holland with an ease which suggested they could score at any moment they chose.
A low right-wing cross from Dani Alves was lofted over the bar by Juan then, after a wonderful, wriggling piece of trickery from Robinho; then Kaka saw a goal-bound shot brilliantly foiled by Maarten Stekelenburg.
The goalkeeper twisted in the air as he leaped left to turn the ball aside with his “wrong” right hand. This was not only the finest save of the finals so far, it was also — not that anyone in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium knew it then — the turning point.
If Brazil had gone in at half-time 2-0 ahead they would have been able to shut up shop in the second half.
But a lead of only one goal offered Holland a target at which they could direct the pace of the inimitable Arjen Robben and the craft of the matchless Wesley Sneijder.
Sneijder provided the looping cross which luckless Felipe Melo nodded back past his own goalkeeper, Brazil’s first-ever World Cup own goal; then Sneijder was on his own in the goalmouth when Fabiano inadvertently nodded back Robben’s corner in the 67th minute.
Robben can be an infuriating player. He has great talent but an equal propensity for histrionics more suited to a stage than a football pitch. Still, he can be lethal when the mood takes him, as it did here.
Poor Melo unravelled to such an extent that he stamped on Robben in full view of Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura.
That meant a red card and dropped Brazil to 10 men just when they needed all 11. The ball skimmed back and forth across Stekelenburg’s goal but with Robinho and Fabiano now anonymous, no one else could apply a finishing touch.
Holland had learned their own lesson; Brazil had failed to heed it.
So the Selecao, having strolled this far and having cruised into the lead, can now start flying… all the way home.
That is the price which, on the day, they deserved to pay.