Dimly, beneath the din of the Vuvuzelas, the Samba beat is taking a grip at this World Cup. Brazil’s comfortable 3-1 triumph over the Ivory Coast at Soccer City last night may not have been majestic, but it was certainly emphatic.
And even the ridiculous 88th minute sending off of the improving Kaka won’t hamper their progress. The second most expensive player in the world received a red from flawed French referee Stephane Lennoy despite the fact that Kader Keita ran in to him and then threw himself to the floor.
The incident sparked a huge melee, but it was nothing more than handbags. A FIFA review of this red card must surely result in complete exoneration. Keita, bow your head in shame. This World Cup deserves better.
Former Manchester City star Elano found himself on the wrong side of an upturned boot too, adding further bitterness.
But none of this should take away from Brazil’s performance last night. While the great European nations struggle with conditions in South Africa, the Latin Americans are simply steaming through their groups.
Brazil join Argentina and Holland as the only perfect teams so far. The latter have been the least convincing of that trio. And we all know how Italy, Germany, England and even Spain have struggled so far. Let’s not talk about France.
Paraguay and Chile look pretty hot too, while Uruguay could top Group A.
The Africans? Not good. Ivory Coast are now struggling, South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria are left hoping for miracles, Cameroon – the best ranked of the lot - are already out. Ghana may be the only survivors from the six who started this first African World Cup.
At times last night, despite the distinctly South African howl of horns, we might have been in the Maracana. There was some masterful stuff, including two goals from Luis Fabiano, who scored nine in qualifying.
The first was an absolute beauty, rammed in from a narrow angle after 25 largely unimpressive minutes of a mediocre first half.
But a brief chat with Dunga at half-time saw the Brazilians – who have achieved global domination five times on four continents – emerge with a roar. Fabiano, who will be right up there with Argentina’s Gonzalo Higiuan in the battle for the golden boot, produced what looked to be a great juggle past three defenders to slip home a second after 50 minutes.
The replays appeared to show not one but two handballs as the Sevilla man set up his second. But hey, these are Brazilians. Let’s not nit-pick. Even the ref had a good old laugh with Fabiano about it afterwards.
Real Madrid’s Kaka, who was looking better and better after a slow start, had one effort brilliantly saved before setting up the third for Elano in the 63rd minute. But then Elano – who had showed off his shin pads after scoring - was carried off on a stretcher after a studs-up response from Cheik Tioto to a sliding tackle.
Didier Drogba, battling away despite playing with a cracked arm, came up with a consolation goal. And then came Kaka’s unjust dismissal... and a late flurry from the Ivorians. But by now, most neutral observers had lost all sympathy for Drogba’s men. And I suspect Didier himself was a little embarrassed. Not to mention former England and Mexico boss Sven Goran Eriksson.
But let’s not let cynicism take away from Brazil’s occasional brilliance. If I were a betting man, they’d be right up there with Argentina. And they’ve got Dunga in charge, not Diego Maradona.
Look, I know I rattle on about these things but, unbelievably, they want me to speak at South Africa’s National Arts Festival on July 4. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Me? Arts? Anyway, here’s the details if you can make it: http://www.computicket.com/web/event/neal_collins_a_game_apart/148367625