Berlin, June 12: This World Cup’s first star has been born, though the superstars are yet to take the field.
Holland’s Arjen Robben, the flying winger, kicked off the race for the tournament’s top player with his inspirational play against Serbia and Montenegro on Sunday.
His real competition starts tomorrow when Brazil ' Magic Quartet and a couple of aged magicians on the wings, Cafu and Roberto Carlos ' takes the field. Fifa mightn’t have thought of it, but it has conjured up the coincidence of the reigning world champions starting their campaign on the same day as the winners of 1998.
France ' that European team of magicians, fading magicians some would say ' plays its first match three hours before Brazil, against Switzerland.
You’ll know then if the master magician, Zinedine Zidane, has any fight left in his old bones at 34. The shaven-headed Frenchman who has always played his football with unhurried elegance has come back from retirement to don the colours of his nation one last time.
It’ll be the last time for his Real Madrid comrade Roberto Carlos, 33, too. And for Cafu, 36, both featuring in the 0-3 defeat of Brazil by France in Zidane’s World Cup.
Will this be Ronaldinho’s' As an artist, he has taken Zidane’s place in the world. He has magic all right and power, never so evident in the Frenchman. And an ineffacable grin in contrast to Zidane’s intensity. The French have always taken their art seriously.
Ronaldinho is certainly the man of the moment. 2002 was Ronaldo’s World Cup, 2006 could be of any of the four members of the Magic Quartet ' Adriano and Kaka are the other two.
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira named his starting lineup against Croatia on May 3. And Ronaldo is in it, whatever the Brazilian President might think of his waistline.
“I’ve done well in training, I feel ready for the start and I think I will get better as the competition goes on,” said Ronaldo, whose weight has become a state secret now. Intelligence suggests it’s between 80 and 90 kilos.
Brazil last lost to a European side, Portugal, in a friendly over three years ago and is unbeaten in its last 10 outings. Last August Croatia had held Brazil to a 1-1 draw in a friendly. “A draw would be a success,” said Croatia midfielder Igor Tudor.
But who knows' Four years ago, Brazil went a goal down before winning 2-1 against a Turkey team who had two players sent off.
“It would be a sensation if we won,” Tudor added.
France knows that sensation ' from 2002 when it went out in the first round without scoring a goal.
Indians, who believe Switzerland is a place where you stash your ill-gotten wealth, will be surprised to know that it held France to two draws in World Cup qualifying.
“When we play against France we could play them 10 times and perhaps win twice, so we have to hope one of those wins will come on Tuesday,” said Swiss coach Koebi Kuhn.
He reminds, though, that Thierry Henry was missing from the French team during the two draws. Henry had a nightmarish tournament in 2002 and he isn’t about to surrender without a fight the crown of the best in the world to Ronaldinho, Robben or Wayne Rooney, or anyone else.