Wednesday, June 14, 2006

As a mindless champion of the sporting underdog, I’ve been doing down Brazil’s chances of winning this World Cup (see previous post). This is partly because everybody else has been blithely proclaiming them to be favourites and I sincerely hope that they don’t walk their way to the trophy. However, it is also my genuine opinion that they won’t win it, and if they do go on to win it I promise not to go back and delete that bit. This opinion was partly based on what little I’d seen of them up to now (obviously good, but not clearly better than half a dozen other teams), and the unlikelihood of one team playing in four World Cup finals in a row, and one of those gut feelings which so rarely prove to be accurate.

I was therefore slightly relieved to see Brazil not being all that good against Croatia last night. Granted, we shouldn’t judge a team on their first outing, because we all know that England can play better than they did against Paraguay. However, even the below-par performance of Michael Owen was streets ahead of the showing from Brazil’s own former prodigy. If the 2002 tournament was Ronaldo’s equivalent of Elvis’s ’68 Comeback Special, then Croatia game was perhaps the beginning of his Vegas years.

Consider it. He’s overweight, he’s started making bizarre pronouncements (he recently called Pele ‘stupid’), and on Tuesday night he didn’t seem to care about the standard of his performance at all. I worked harder during that match than he did. (Seriously, I had my laptop on and did three pages of a script.) It was quite sad to watch, really.

Although it was also slightly funny, because for some reason Ronaldo has never been a very likeable player, has he? Unlike Ronaldinho, whose tricksy manoeuvres seem to exude a real joy for the game, Ronaldo has always had a sulky quality about him, as though he’s never come to terms with the idea that the other team also want to win the match, and they’re not just trying to stop him scoring because they want to upset him. On the evidence of the Croatia game that has now turned to arrogance. His single decent attempt on goal, a creditable long-range attempt, confirmed that his talent is still in there, but this was precisely what mitigated against any sympathy: it would be genuinely sad if he was trying hard but had lost his touch, but he instead he just didn’t seem like he was bothering.

Brazil as a whole, of course, are much better than Ronaldo. Croatia did make themselves hard to break down, Roberto Carlos was busy running up the wing, Ronaldinho wasn’t at his best but still caused problems, and Kaka’s goal will surely be in the running for best of the tournament. And they wouldn’t be the first team to improve during the tournament on the way to a win (West Germany and Argentina both lost group games on their way to victories in the 1970s, and Italy were of course dreadful in the first round in 1982). But Greece’s win at Euro 2004 should have been a wake-up call for the international superpowers, proving that a well-organised side can shoot down a team of galacticos if they work hard enough.

I think this World Cup will be won by a team that works hard. And if Ronaldo persists in being the footballing equivalent of Fat Elvis, their challenge for this trophy is going to have a heart attack on the toilet.

No comments: