Friday, June 23, 2006

Japan v Brazil, BBC1

"Welcome to this largely irrelevant Group F fixture" says Gary. "Honestly, if only we'd not had this one listed in the Radio Times we could have shown you Croatia v Australia instead, which is probably going to end up as the most extraordinary game of the tournament, but we did and so we're not." All right, so he didn't say that. Look, I was on a train and missed the build-up and the first 23 minutes of the match. You could tell me that anything had happened during this time - Hansen had stopped pretending to be grumpy, one of Lineker's puns had been amusing, Leonardo had said something slightly interesting, anything at all - and I'd believe you. (I'm guessing that none of this happened as otherwise Skif would have mentioned it, but we can but hope.) As it is, I've got nothing. Well, Brazil looked quite good in the couple of minutes I saw while waiting in the chip shop (yeah, I know, but if you’re going to be late you may as well be slightly later and not hungry), but that's not really the sort of comprehensive analysis you're looking for.

I can tell you about the high spots of the first half hour, because they showed them at half time - Robinho dancing through the defence and shooting narrowly over; Juninho's rasping shot from Ronaldo's astute knockback being brilliantly tipped over by Kawaguchi. And I can say that in the first five minutes or so that I actually managed to see, Brazil were finally beginning to look half-decent - Robinho popping up all over the place, Cicinho bombing up and down the right flank, Ronaldinho skipping gaily through clumps of defenders as if he hadn't a care in the world. Even Ronaldo broke into a trot at one point, with a smart turn and shot narrowly wide inspiring Steve Wilson into an ill-advised simile comparing him to "a postcard of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; you recognise it but it's a pale imitation of the real thing". Lawrenson doesn't resist the obvious rejoinder. We shall.

Naturally, then, Japan score, Inamoto setting (cue oft-mentioned fact of the match) the Brazilian-born Alex away, Alex supplying a most un-Japanese astute pass in the last third of the pitch, Tamada slipping the leaden-footed Lucio and managing an equally un-Japanese like finish. Japan have been possibly the single most frustrating team in the tournament. They'd be tremendous fun to watch - resolute in defence, accurate and quick with their passing, speedy on the break - but for, with this one glorious exception, their utter ineptitude in the last third of the pitch. If they'd had a decent forward this could have been a Holland v Argentina-esque facile kickaround and Graham Poll would have had a quiet evening and a second round match to look forward to. Really.

Lawro suggests that Brazil can only get better; Steve points out that we've been waiting for them to do so all World Cup. Even though they have the ball for the remainder of the half, it's still a bit of a surprise when they equalise right at the end of the added-on minute, Cicinho's excellent header back across goal leaving Ronaldo a fairly simple finish. The finger-wagging celebration doesn't look nearly so impressive given his current girth; he looks less like a great player and, particularly given the white shorts Brazil are wearing for this fixture, more like the nappy-wearing bloke on the posters for Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Half time. Hansen isn't happy:

"They're playing without a centre forward."
"He's just scored!"
"He can't run!"

Hansen then slightly contradicts himself by suggesting that Ronaldo runs like a penguin. Curiously, he then feels the need to explain to Leonardo what a penguin is. I know it's not native to Brazil, but surely the penguin isn't such an obscure animal that a cultured chap like Leonardo wouldn't know what one is? Surely he must have at least seen that episode of Pingu with all the weeing, or been curious as to what that bloke in Batman was supposed to be? (Ronaldo's running style reminds me more of sometime Charlton player turned lardbucket Ryman League figure of scorn Peter Garland, but that's obscure even for this blog.) There's a compilation of Ronaldo's good and bad moments, supposedly to show how poor he's been, but surely picking anyone's four worst moments of any half could suggest that they're the biggest duffer in the tournament? (There should be a name for this sort of thing; "Hargreaves' Paradigm", perhaps.) There's much cooing over Srna's free kick for Croatia and Martin O'Neil points out that Zeljko Kalac was at Leicester when he arrived: "he's reserve keeper at Milan now, I wouldn't have expected that". Ho ho. Before he gets the chance to mention the play-off final or the Italian corruption scandal it's off for the second half. "I wouldn't say Ronaldo is off and running" says Steve, the wag.

Japan, now needing two goals, start the second half by piling men behind the ball and letting Brazil do as they like. As astute tactical moves go, this is up with Poland trying to hang on for 0-0 against Germany and Angola taking off all of their forwards when 1-0 down to Portugal, and when Juninho's shot swerves through Kawaguchi's hands it's all that they deserve. "Portsmouth fans will have memories flooding back" says Steve of the keeper's horrible flap at the ball; Lawro laughs for slightly too long. Gilberto (the reserve left-back, not to be confused with Gilberto Silva) slots home the third after being allowed to wander up the pitch as he likes. It's a good evening for all of the Brazilian players brought in for the night, Cicinho and Robinho in particular looking more impressive than the players they replaced. The team for the next match is going to be very interesting.

Japan completely fall apart at this point. The hapless Maki, apparently unable to time a run to stay onside, is replaced by Takahara, who hobbles off injured within five minutes. Many of their breaks forward are thwarted by Gilberto Silva (the reserve holding midfielder, not to be confused with Gilberto), leading to Lawro trumping Steve for ill-advised similes by referring to him as being "like the boy in the dyke". Because he plugs holes, you see. Yes. Ronaldo thumps home the fourth to tie Gerd Muller’s record - mind you, given the way that Japan are defending at this point, Gerd probably could have come on and notched a couple as well - and briefly changing channels while the tubby one celebrates reveals that something ridiculous might be about to happen on BBC3, which is where I stay for the next ten minutes. (In the name of thoroughness - yeah, better late than never, I know - I taped the rest of the match that I was supposed to be reporting on and watched it later. Nothing much happened.) So that's a match report based on about 58 minutes of football then. Finals Fantasy - we're nothing if not comprehensive.

What we've learned: Brazil are back, possibly, although in truth it's difficult to tell with such easily-deflated opposition; if you're going to throw a sick day for any match in the tournament, it should probably be Brazil v Ghana; if you're a very fat woman with a very loud voice and absolutely no sense of tact whatsoever, you shouldn't go to visit anyone in hospital as you're bound to offend someone sooner or later (probably sooner).


Blogger skif said...

"Hansen had stopped pretending to be grumpy, one of Lineker's puns had been amusing, Leonardo had said something slightly interesting, anything at all - and I'd believe you. (I'm guessing that none of this happened as otherwise Skif would have mentioned it, but we can but hope."

Well, as I didn't want to tread on your toes, I didn't give it that much attention, so it could have happened.

Your suspicions are probably correct though.

10:34 am, June 24, 2006


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