July 2: Jogo Bonito won at Frankfurt last night. Brazil huffed and puffed out of the World Cup, but long before that the “beautiful game” had changed its brand ambassador.
The French, the oldest team in the tournament, had shown that the aesthetics of the pitch are not just the province of Pele’s country, and sent even the samba crowd home with their heads full of the romantic football of Zinedine Zidane and his lieutenants.
“Why do we have to play beautiful football when the others don’t'” Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira had complained last week. He got his answer yesterday in a question put to him by a Brazilian reporter: Is France now “the real Brazil”'
The passing of a mantle was what most fans had expected from the match, though it was an individual one and though many believed it had happened already.
Ronaldinho, the 25-year-old ever-grinning magician, had arrived in Germany wearing the crown of the world’s best footballer two years running. Last night, his vaunted team of invincibles was expected to haughtily sweep aside a side that had looked in danger of being knocked out at the group stage.
In those first weeks, the 34-year-old Zidane was being seen as emblematic of France’s problems. His genius had faded, his place in the team was bought with the wages of reputation, not prowess.
His suspension from the Togo match was seen as a chance for Les Bleus to shed the weight of their baggage, but coach Raymond Domenech reinstated “Zizou” against Spain and suddenly, the inspiration was flickering again.
Last night, the vintage of velvet touch and astonishing vision was back. Zidane played every trick, made every pass count and laid on the goal for Thierry Henry.
Even Brazilian fans were raised to their feet by some of his audacious passes. Time and again he sent Henry and Franck Ribery scampering clear down the flanks, looking to exploit the space behind the marauding Cafu and Roberto Carlos. He killed an awkward looping ball stone-dead. He gave the trademark double drag-back an outing.
“Zidane was the magician in the game,” said Pele.
Yet, even the French football boss could think of only one simile to describe the wizardry. “He was the most Brazilian of all tonight,” said Jean-Pierre Escalettes. “He did things he hadn’t been doing for a long time.”
The man who should have been the “most Brazilian” left the ground never having once lived up to his billing in five games.
Ronaldinho failed to score a goal, restricting himself to the familiar flicks and shimmies without ever turning them into anything worthwhile as he and his team finally drowned in a sea of mediocrity.
Minutes before the end, a chance came to turn it all around with one swish of the wand. But on a night the Brazilians seemed destined to play the muggles to the Frenchmen’s wizards, he failed to keep the free kick down and the samba smile was replaced with a rare grimace.
“It’s very sad. I wanted to make Brazil champions,” he said. He’ll get another chance; for Zizou, this one’s the last.
He has snatched back the crown of the world’s best player but at most for a week, for he retires either after a semi-final defeat to Portugal on Wednesday or at the end of the July 9 final.
For all that, he has been turning every match into a last, exhilarating roll of the dice.
Domenech wants his players to follow Zidane’s example. “He’s playing so well because he realises the end of his career is near and he is giving it all he has. I’d like all the players to play the next match as if it were their last.”
No lover of the beautiful game would want it to be. “Now we’ll try to win a place in the final,” Zidane said. “We don’t want to stop now. This is so beautiful, we want it to carry on.”
The Real Madrid bow-out two months ago ended without a hurrah. If Real Brazil make it to Berlin next Sunday, the real Brazilians would not be missed too much.
Written with agency reports