Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Brazil v Croatia 1-0

Is it possible to be football fan and have no vehement opinion about Brazil? I don't think so. A part of me wants to insist that if you hate Brazil, you must be in possession of a small and miserly soul, a heart which is, like the Grinch's, two sizes too small--how can you hate the flair? the laughter? the music? the sheer joy of it all? the pretty moves? Yet I know there are some of you out there, perhaps even (gasp!) friends of mine, who are otherwise fair and generous folk, despite your loathing of the Samba Boys. And so we shall have to agree to leave this distasteful and unfortunate lapse on your part someplace where we won't stumble across it too often, and speak of it no more.

The Brazilians were decent if not dazzling in their match with Croatia--save for Ronaldo. I grew tired of the anti-Ronaldo bandwagon weeks before the World Cup even started, and I never intended to jump on for the ride, but--he was shocking. Standing around like he was on the sidelines. Apparently waiting on someone to send him a pass that would cost him as little effort as possible. Strolling out of the dressing room onto the pitch after the second half had already begun. Now, I'm going to cut Ronaldo a modicum of slack here on account of the fact that if I were a superstar Brazilian soccer player, I too would be tempted to overindulge in good food and women and I just bet you would too. Oh yes you would. On the other hand, I have managed to turn up to work at perfectly appalling jobs to take home at the end of forty hours what Ronaldo makes in about forty seconds. Ronaldo, stop thinking about the ache down below and do your job.

Certainly one of Brazil's best moments came when the ball erupted off Kaka's foot in that glorious and deadly strike, his first-ever World Cup goal. But it's the Croatians, the team and their fans, who are my first great revelation of this tournament. This is a squad I underestimated; they did, after all, make it to third place in 1998. Still, few believe this year's players match the quality of the ones who came so close in France eight years ago.

You couldn't blame most teams for feeling a little rattled at the prospect of facing Brazil in their opening match. If Croatia was rattled, however, they never let us know. They showed themselves to be a solid, well-organized side, and--especially when compared with the fear-dogged US team--a courageous one as well. They played with--dare I say it yet again, that overused but perenially useful phrase--they played with heart, like they believed they could win, and with supporters like that on your side, how could you not? For as the final minutes of the match ticked down, that swelling noise you heard was not the Brazilian fans, but the Croatians, down one goal and coming away without a single point, on their feet, proud and loyal to the very end, singing in full voice on and on into the warm Berlin night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hy i'm from croatia and i like that you have seen the true power of our nation.