Sunday, June 18, 2006

"The trouble with Fred is, he's too hasty..."

They attack with pace, piling on power, passion and devilish trickery – with ruthless results.
Not, for the moment, the Brazilian players – but the Brazilian Press.
I’ve just emerged, sweat-sodden and woozy, from my first experience of a World Cup “media zone”.
Just? Only just about.
Unlike the mediator-led, polite probing of the managers’ post-match Press conferences, the media zone is a frenetic free-for-all - and not for the faint-hearted. Footballers included.
As the players rush along a thin alleyway separating dressing rooms from team buses, reporters get to holler questions and prod recorders in their faces – in the hope that someone might just take the bait.
And when it’s the fearsome might of the Brazilian media coming a-calling, it's probably wisest not to think you can resist for long.
If only the footballers had been quite so dynamic in the Munich Arena tonight, labouring England-style to a flattering 2-0 triumph, just days after a similarly underwhelming 1-0 victory.
Before the World Cup kicked off, most England fans would probably have been delighted to be told they would be bearing comparisons with Brazil nine days in.
Sadly, the manner of both teams’ performances has been rather more underwhelming than the scorching standards set by, say, Argentina and Spain.
At least Ronaldinho looked to be slowly cranking into something approaching the right gear tonight.
And The Guardian’s so-called “man who ate Ronaldo” contributed too, setting up the first goal - despite contributing little else beyond an embarrassing airshot and plenty of plodding and wheezing.
As the woman from The Sun sitting next to me appeared to be drafting it: “The two Ronnies finally got their act together last night” – but again, only just about.
The great “walking football” of swaggering Brazilians past was slowed to a pensioner’s pace for long periods.
The ever-vivid crowds were not quite so slow to begin jeering and whistling, especially as key midfielder Emerson kept indulging a fondness for very unBrazilian backpasses from the halfway line.
The arrival of Robinho with 20 minutes left couldn’t have offered a starker contrast to Ronaldo, the man he replaced for the second game running.
For a start, Robinho actually seemed to want the ball – even haring back into his own half to scythe a couple of Aussies, each almost twice his size.
His instinctive, diagonal drive as injury-time began, provided the rebound which fellow substitute Fred (Fred??!) couldn’t help but tap in from two yards.
That sealed a hard-fought win, which at half-time had looked a long way away.
Adriano’s calm pass past goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, shortly after the second half kicked off, had first broken down the tough, Lucas Neill-led Australian resistance.
The Australians, cheered to the rafters and beyond by their own bright yellow army, could even have scored several times themselves – especially after Harry Kewell replaced Tim Cahill.
Unlike Cahill, who sped on head down, mouth clamped shut, Kewell was chatty in the media zone.
He predictably sidestepped attempts to lure him into complaining about his relegation to the bench, while talking up both teams in perfectly placid footballer-speak.
Mark Viduka was the media zone star, though, chattering on for what seemed like hours, bounding from hack-pack to pack, even gabbling in Croatian for a select few.
Yes, he does take some relentless abuse when playing the pantomime villain at White Hart Lane – and, to paraphrase Alan Partridge, I may occasionally have been party to that goading.
But he was surprisingly personable this evening – even joking about the pre-match AC/DC played over the Tannoys, and how he was inspired by the thought “it was just like wrestling”…
Eventually, though, even Press-feeding powerhouse Viduka was desperate for respite, desperately shrugging: “I’ve just finished a tough game – I’m stuffed, guys!”
Similarly-helpful Gilberto Silva, the one Brazilian source for us English hacks to pounce upon, finally had to be dragged away by one of the team minders.
But Ronaldinho was still somewhere buried in the crush, Brazilian reporters aggressively hollering questions in a manner which seemed to have reduced Roberto Carlos to the brink of tears.
Ronaldo was one of the first to face the herd – and long after assuming he’d escaped, I spotted him furtively rising from one scrum and making a relieved dash for the exits.
Goalscorer Fred, on the other hand, had entered the media zone with the broadest of beams illuminating his face, and looked like a man prepared to answer questions and pose for photos until the minute before kick-off next time around.
Then again, seeing how the eight-goal hero of four years ago has now become a laughing-stock (not helping himself, of course)...
Perhaps Fred should just enjoy this moment while he can.

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