Friday, July 02, 2010

"Ain't understanding Melo..."

DUNGA and Brazil had already been jolted out of their comfort zone even before Felipe Melo inexplicably lost the plot and cost his country World Cup glory.
Even as fans were still streaming away from Monday night’s emphatic win over Chile, Dunga was moaning about having to up sticks from their favourite Bloemfontein hotel and hit the road for the rest of the tournament.
‘It does interfere with our original plans because we were very well settled in our hotel in a very favourable atmosphere,’ he pouted, the poor lamb.
‘Now obviously we’re going to have to move from city to city, hotel to hotel, and this generates a certain degree of confusion.
‘But we only consider each situation game by game, though it would be advantageous to stay where we are. It has good training conditions.
‘We’re now going to have to confront a new situation, a new reality.’
Well, he need worry no longer, since soon he should find himself safely ensconced in home, unsweet home, after this afternoon’s elimination by the Dutch in Port Elizabeth.
Dunga was already distrusted by many Selecao supporters for his perceived negativity in team selection, both in defensive tactics and the exclusion of names such as Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato.
Presumably, despite earlier Copa America and Confederations Cup glory, demands for Dunga’s head will make Fabio Capello look like a national treasure by comparison.
Yet in calculated measures against Chile, and for the first half today, Brazil looked to have the right blend of thrilling skill – and discipline.
It was the Dutch team, after four underwhelming wins in a row, who opened today’s match looking suddenly incoherent, especially the increasingly-antsy Robin van Persie and an Arjen Robben over-reliant on his favourite trick of cutting in from the right.
Robinho, in contrast, was proving much more elusive and penetrating, especially faced by a Dutch defence being properly tested for the first time by an opponent – and also disrupted by the last-minute injury to Joris Mathijsen.
Surely they could come up with a more reassuring reserve than Blackburn reject Andre Ooijer? Then again, seeing Khalid Boulahrouz next in line on the bench, perhaps not…
The through-ball bisecting the Dutch defence for Robinho’s opening goal was planted uncharacteristly sweetly Felipe Melo, at least.
But while the organisation of the Dutch defence was so haphazard, the Brazilians went one worse in the second half when opponents who had looked clueless before half-time were given a lifeline.
Julio Cesar, regularly described as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, should have done better – or, at least, something – when Wesley Sneijder’s free-kick curled past him and off Melo’s head into the net.
Substitute goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes would surely never have allowed such a soft goal to go in like that.
Presumably he’d either have given the ball a thumping punch clear – or given Melo’s head a thumping punch well out of the way.
Melo was to blame again for not marking stringently enough when Sneijder nodded in what proved to be the winner, from a corner that swept across the box like a stone skipping across water.
And, just for the hat-trick, Melo ensured not only his own Juventus fans will despise him by getting sent off for a daft stamp on Robben – before looking about as bemusingly nonchalant as anyone can be, having just killed off an entire country’s World Cup ambitions.
The whole team seemed to follow him in losing the plot after that.
Kaka’s close control was nowhere near as impeccable as usual, Dani Alves’ set-pieces were getting no better, and there was no real intelligent interplay or drive from the midfield onwards – especially in the absence of Ramires and the presence of Gilberto Silva.
Despite Sneijder again pressing his case for this year’s Ballon d’Or, the Dutch still looked unconvincing, with Kuyt anonymous save for a few ineffectual trudges and Marc van Bommel a walking red-card-in-waiting.
Perhaps those celebrating most will be whoever wins here in Soccer City this evening, as all Africa – well, most of it, surely, anyway – throws its hollersome weight behind Ghana.
Or, as today’s South African papers insist: ‘BaGhana BaGhana’.
Rather endearing? Or just a bit desperate? One or the other, at least – perhaps both...

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