Soccer: Brazil's not so beautiful game

By John Leicester

The World Cup was treated to its final, just two games too early.

For drama and intensity, the spectacle of the Netherlands stunning and bullying Brazil will be difficult to outdo at this tournament.

The five-time champions are such footballing giants that there is always an earthquake-like thump when they are brought to their knees.

Kaka and his amigos mistakenly thought they could lift the heavy gold statue without showing up in South Africa with the beautiful game that made Pele and his team-mates world-famous.

Coach Dunga gambled that merely winning would be enough to assuage the critics back home who worried that Brazil's traditions of entertaining, dancing football were being betrayed.

In kidding themselves that efficient, often unglamorous, percentage football would take them to the July 11 showpiece match, the Brazilians forgot to light up and really spark in South Africa. They were definitely good but not Brazilian brilliant, and that was their undoing.

Dunga blamed a poor second-half against the Dutch. But that was only half the story. In five World Cup games, Brazilian beauty came only in flashes and it wasn't enough.

In hindsight, the 55 minutes it took Brazil to break open the Korean defence should have set alarm bells ringing.

Only half an hour into the round of 16 elimination game against Chile did Brazil finally turn it on.

Never mind, we told ourselves, this is Brazil. They'll find a higher gear when they need it.

Well, they needed it against the Netherlands. But instead, they lost their heads.

Turns out that Brazilians get hot, bothered and lose their focus when niggled by the likes of Mark van Bommel, who was a real bully in the Dutch midfield, and Arjen Robben, who did not score but made a real pest of himself with his light-footed runs.

A turning point was Felipe Melo's stupid, hot-headed stamp on Robben's thigh. It got him sent off with 20 minutes left, scuttling Brazil's chances of recovering from their 2-1 deficit.

Also vital was Maarten Stekelenburg's astounding save of Kaka's shot on 31 minutes. Had it gone in, it would have been curtains for the Netherlands, giving Brazil a 2-0 lead.

The lead-up - Robinho wriggling past two defenders, passing to Luis Fabiano, his subsequent backheel to Kaka - was the most delightful piece of Brazilian play at this World Cup. Had Brazil done that more often, Brazil would still be here, not making excuses.

"I just called home and my son was crying," Felipe Melo, whose own goal got the Dutch back in the match, said afterwards. "I have to apologise."

But the fault was collective not individual. And it didn't help Brazil that Kaka was not at his best in South Africa.

Like other stars of world football - think Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney or Samuel Eto'o - he failed to live up to his billing.

Like his team.

STILL, BRAZIL is a resolute nation and even though Dunga's men failed, the initial pain began, slowly, to morph into the Brazilians' natural state of optimism.

For example, tears rolled down Paulo Gama's face and his girlfriend sobbed in his arms as he stared in disbelief at the video screen on Copacabana beach as the World Cup favourites were eliminated.

Across the famous beach, heads bowed and many of the 20,000 people there crumpled to the white sand.

"Tomorrow, the sun will not rise," Gama said. That was all he could say. It was all anyone could say in this land of Carnival and samba, where a passionate people mourn as acutely as they celebrate.

"It's over. It's over. I cannot believe that it is over," said Luciano Barreto, using the Brazil jersey in his hand to wipe his face. Earlier, when top-ranked Brazil took a 1-0 lead that same shirt was proudly waved in the air with the certainty of a win and heading toward a sixth World Cup title.

The goal that crushed 190 million Brazilian hearts came in the 68th minute, when Wesley Sneijder scored with a header following a corner kick.

But if there is any country emotionally equipped to deal with such a defeat, it is Brazil. In the Portuguese language there is a word that Brazilians swear cannot be translated: saudades - to enjoy longing; to recognise and cherish the ache of someone or something that is beyond one's grasp.

The joy Brazil is known for and with which its teams play is the direct result of embracing a long journey through agony. Waiting at the end is the moment of elation: the return of a loved one, a long-awaited kiss, a game-winning goal.

That lovely Brazilian trait was on display after the game. Twenty minutes after the end, samba drummers took the stage on Copacabana beach, their powerful, familiar rhythm soothing a restive crowd.

"Tears may fall today, but the happiness in the Brazilian heart remains," said Claudia Ressea, as she moved her hips to the beat. "You will see. The world will see. We'll be back in 2014, and the cup will be ours."

- AP

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