Sunday, August 21, 2011

Brazilian cooking

On the final weekend of a major international tournament, the consolation match is usually the best bet for open, entertaining soccer. If for no better reason than third place sounds a lot cooler than fourth place, the battle for the bronze is often times the best.

Not on Saturday. Mexico-France was a fine opening act, but Brazil-Portugal was the final for good reason. Brazil and Portugal were simply better teams, but as the Bogota night grew darker only one team played like it.

Like most finals, the game was tied after ten minutes. Unlike most finals, the score was 1-1. Oscar had scored "a Lampard" for Brazil, followed only moments later by a neat tap-in by Alex for Portugal. The match look set to be a barnburner, but not quite.

To borrow from Hollywood, the game was more Inception than Step Brothers as procedings took on a more cerebral air after the initial warning shots. Brazil were yet to settle into their typical attacking rhythm and Portugal's attacking successes can be chalked up to some dodgy Brazilian defending.

When Nelson Oliveira gave the Portugese the lead in the 59th minute, Brazil were further drawn out. The problem was it wasn't working for them. The Brazilians were nearly beat. They were mad at the ball, mad at the ref, and worst of all, mad at each other. The game looked likely to be seen out until Portugal started playing not to lose - at which point open season had just begun.

As Portugal more and more closely resembled 2008 Derby County, Brazil started to click into their fearsome rhythm. Yes, the "Brazilian Samba" and its ability to "lull opponents to sleep" is one of the most over-used lines by English language commentators. That doesn't make it untrue. Only Portugal had decidedly snoozed off on their own accord.

It was only proper then that Dudu's simplest of trickeries ultimately led to Oscar's 78th minute equalizer. At this point, the game was injected with some much needed bite. Perhaps the altitude, humidity and fatigue contributed. The snarls on the players' faces, however, indicated more of a "There's a trophy in this building, that YOU are trying to take from me" sort of aggression. The best kind.

While the fouls and cards started to pile up, so too did the Brazilian momentum. Portugal's kick and chase had deteriorated into hoof and hope, while Brazil turned into the team that out-soccered Spain. Huffing and puffing on one end was answered by blissful stepovers on the other. Portugal were clearly playing for penalties where Brazil were playing for pleasure.

By the time Oscar completed his hat trick with an audacious chip with less than ten minutes to go, the fat lady was singing. In the end it all made sense - Portugal didn't have it. "It": undying self-belief, couple with worldly talent and a cool head under pressure. That's the closest thing to a recipe for "it." Apparently, it's Brazilian.

- Jacob Klinger

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