How to beat Brazil

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I finally caught up with the Brazilians in Dortmund last week. As always, they are the most colourful thing at this World Cup: colourful players, colourful media, colourful supporters. They all looked instantly at home in the town’s magnificent football stadium. And why wouldn’t they? Yellow is not only the colour of Brazil, but also of Borussia Dortmund. The likes of Lucio and Juan will also have played league matches here for their German clubs. They must be delighted to be returning for Tuesday’s second-round clash with Ghana.

Some observations:

• Ronaldo, who equalled Gerd Müller’s record for World Cup goals scored in the match I saw against Japan, has started to look old in the same way that Patrick Vieira has. There are times when his body seems to have lost the suppleness to enable it to do what he wants it to. And these days, he does look – how shall I put it? – built for comfort not speed. When not in action, he spends long spells immobile on the halfway line. His natural gait has become a waddle.

Then again, he still strikes a ball sweet as a nut. He is in his final days as an international footballer. But the explosion of joy when he hits that all-important 15th goal will be deafening from Berlin to Brasilia.

• I have never seen a side appear to revel in each other’s small victories as much as these Brazilians. After each dazzling move, Ronaldinho must have walked miles touching palms with every team-mate who contributed. Once he seemed so concerned not to leave anyone out that I think he included a bemused Japanese defender in the ritual.

As the team walked back out after half-time, Roberto Carlos – rested for the day – hugged some of his colleagues so hard he lifted them off their feet. After his record-equalling goal, Ronaldo was given the captain’s armband after Dida was substituted. It is the sort of team spirit France used to have but which the present French squad would kill for.

• But samba football is also founded on a base of discipline. After the match, all the reserves – including those who had come on as subs – took part in extensive warm-down exercises under the eye of a pretty formidable looking PE instructor. As several of the first team didn’t play against Japan, the joggers included stars such as Cafu and Roberto Carlos. It looked like the sloth-like midfielder Emerson got a bit of an earful for showing up late.

• They could, of course, be beaten. For all the kaleidoscope of movement, Brazil kept running down blind alleys in the first half. Japan’s minimalist game-plan – crafted by their coach Zico, who knows a thing or two about Brazilian football – worked to perfection. It consisted of channelling Brazil’s whirligig of gambolling midfield players into a blue-shirted wall erected across the Japanese penalty area, winning the key tackles and breaking at pace.

They took the lead and held it until Brazil worked out an effective counterstrategy: attack up the flanks via Cicinho and Gilberto, the reserve full-backs. That was too much for Japan, who quickly folded. A better team, however, might have adapted its own game to attack the Brazilians in the hole left by their marauding wide men. That would have pulled centre-backs Juan and Lucio out of position. And though these two are greyhounds compared with some of the lighthouse Brazilian defenders of years gone by, they are still far from the quickest last line of defence at this tournament.

. . . Leipzig railway station, with its cavernous central hall, is one of the glories of Germany. I arrived there on Saturday just as Lukas Podolski notched his and the home team’s second goal. The roar that erupted from a crowd in the basement was operatic in its intensity. Suddenly, a television set seemed the most desirable thing in the world.

Better was to come though. Before my eyes an olive-green-uniformed German policewoman metamorphosed from a stern icon of authority into an ecstatic fan. She let out a whoop of joy then indulged in one of those clench-fisted salutes that are part of Robbie Keane’s celebratory repertoire. You know, the pose he strikes after he has done his somersault and fired his imaginary six-shooter into the crowd.

Five seconds later, she was back pacing along the walkway, her passion again under lock and key. Moments like this are what make a World Cup. A nation is “über der Lüne”, Brian.

More David Owen diary:

Language as a metaphor for football

Return to Berlin

When Leni met Luis

Munich puts World Cup in the shop window

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