Offside, 27 June
Anyone can perform a step-over today. So why do we continue to treat Brazil with such reverence?
‘Do you serve breakfast?’ I enquired. The barmaid poured me a pint of Becks. ‘No, I think you must have misheard me. I want breakfast, not Becks.’ ‘Sorry no, we don’t do food’, she replied.
My first breakfast-time visit to a pub had started somewhat inauspiciously. Ironically, having decided not to watch the game at home, I ended up cheering our boys from the comfort of a leather sofa in one of those trendy ‘third space’ bars that tries to pretend it’s a living room à la Central Perk in Friends.
At first everything went well. Owen had put England in front and we were defending with reasonable comfort until…well, you know what happened next. England games can be an emotional white-knuckle ride but this wasn’t one of them. England’s World Cup ended not with a bang but with a whimper, quite literally so in the case of David Seaman. There were no disallowed goals, no dodgy offside decisions, and no missed penalties. Just a great deal of ineffectual huffing and puffing.
Even more galling was the fact that I was sitting near a gaggle of increasingly vocal Brazilians who insisted on shrieking ‘Samba!’ whenever one of their players charged forward with the ball (needless to say they were quiet when Rivaldo writhed around clutching his face in mock agony). In the end I dispensed with diplomatic protocol and told them to ‘f**k off’. I even considered launching a Boycott Brazil campaign but, in the end, I couldn’t think of a single Brazilian product worth buying.
I felt so utterly deflated after the game that I decided to go to work to take my mind off the World Cup. Fat chance! Football was the only thing anyone wanted to talk about. The post-match inquest had begun. It wasn’t long before the first joke appeared in my email in-box. ‘Why are Brazilians such good lovers?’ ‘Because they can lob Seaman from 40 yards.’ Boom Boom. Not only is this a recycled Nayim joke, but it’s also quite illogical. Eight times a night, yes, but how many women fantasise about projectile ejaculation?
Invariably the debate over Brazil’s winning goal will rage for years. Did Ronaldinho intend to shoot? Was Seaman’s positioning wrong? Was the ponytail a contributory factor? David Beckham made a point of consoling the distraught goalkeeper. According to a lipreading expert, Beckham’s exact words were ‘You worked f***ing hard out there. You did a f***ing good job’. But lipreading is a notoriously inexact science. My own lipreading source tells me that what Beckham really said was ‘You f***ing long-haired lard-arse, you flapped like a girl at the f***ing lob’.
Anyway, while Seaman may have been at fault for the goal, to fixate on Ronaldinho’s freak/brilliant shot (delete as appropriate) is to ignore England’s chronic lack of creativity when chasing the game against 10 men. In the end we lost because we ran out of ideas.
Even though Brazil will probably win the World Cup, they are far from being a great team. Brazil have been dining out on their past reputation for far too long. The mysterious pre-match seizure suffered by Ronaldo on the eve of the 1998 final obscured the fact that we hadn’t seen much evidence of the jogo bonito from Brazil for many years, except in Nike adverts.
Football fans of my generation were mesmerised by the legendary 1970 team with their golden jerseys and fantastic ball skills. Subsequent Brazilian teams have been disappointing. Only the 1982 side, which included Zico, Falcao and Socrates, came anywhere close to matching the 1970 team for attacking flair. The game has moved on since 1970, but inexplicably we continue to treat Brazil with undue reverence. Why? While Brazilian trickery was a revelation to British TV viewers in 1970, anyone can perform a step-over or drag-back today (though you wouldn’t have guessed from the way Motty and co still wet their pants over the Samba Boys).
Even Brazil’s coach, ‘Big Phil’ Scolari wants to shake off the jogo bonito myth. ‘There’s no more Beautiful Game’, he declared last year. ‘You are not going to see the Brazil of 1958, 1962 or 1970. We are in 2001.’
In recent years, the balance of power in South American football has shifted towards Argentina, who I think are a better team than Brazil despite their early exit from the tournament. Admittedly, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and, to a lesser extent, Ronaldinho are brilliant attacking players who give an otherwise mediocre team a cutting edge. But in any other tournament they would surely have encountered stiffer opposition en route to the final. Somehow, though, France and Argentina, who were in the same half of the draw as Brazil, contrived to get themselves eliminated. It therefore fell to England to shatter the myth of the Samba Boys – but we passed up this historic opportunity.
Looking ahead to the final, for the first time in my life I’m thinking the unthinkable. I might support Germany. Of course, Germany’s remarkably easy passage to the final will be taken as proof to some that God, if he exists, is almost certainly German. And yes, football justice demands that a team as dull as Germany should have been eliminated long ago. Even Franz Beckenbauer has savaged the German team, saying ‘If you put all the players in a sack and punched it, whichever player you hit would deserve it’. (Oi, Kaiser, don’t you know there’s a queue?)
But my support for Germany is not based on any positive attributes possessed by the team. Nor will I be donning lederhosen and a Rudi Völler mullet wig and cheering on the Germans with great enthusiasm. Instead, I see it as more akin to tactical voting. You see, if Germany were to win, nobody would be foolish enough to imagine that they were the world’s best team. A German victory might, however, destroy the myth of Brazilian invincibility.
And whoever exposes the Samba boys for the troupe of over-rated show-ponies that they are will be doing the world a favour.
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