Brazil still play the beautiful game

Ian Ridley reports from France on the thrill of seeing a team full of joy and flair
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The Independent Online
You read your World Soccer diligently, you watch faithfully everything that moves on satellite television - but still they come to take your breath away, these unknown Brazilians who suddenly seize the European stage.

Where do they all come from? Denilson, the latest in the line of twinkle- toed ball players, actually hails from Sao Paulo, the city that brought you Juninho. In fact, as the understudy to Giovanni, he keeps his predecessor as ball-carrier at his club out of the current Brazilian squad.

Denilson is just 19 and was winning only his fourth cap against Italy in Lyon on Sunday night. At times when he was in possession of the ball, either caressing it with a pass or bravely dribbling at the toughest defenders in the world game, you wanted to stop the match, to point him out to young players and say: now that is what a footballer should be.

It would have been madness, of course. You never wanted such a match to stop. "It was the best match I have ever played in for Italy," said Alessandro Del Piero, who probably played his best match for Italy in scoring two of their goals in the 3-3 draw.

Neither was the scoreline due to bad defending, at least not on Italy's part. The physical contests between Fabio Cannavaro and Ronaldo, Christian Panucci and Romario, were terrible yet beautiful, the peak of defensive and attacking arts. Panucci secured the prized possession of Ronaldo's shirt and is to give it to a seriously ill child back home.

Then there was Denilson, his open, youthful face a throwback to the smiling countenances of the 60s you grew up with. He typified the Brazilian determination to strike at the heart of the defence, confident and certain of their own skill and control. One weaving run deserved a better fate than a stab wide, caused cannily by Alessandro Costacurta's nudge at the crucial moment.

Memo to Mario Zagallo: please play Denilson against England in the Parc des Princes tonight. In fact, play as many of Sunday's team as is possible. Such an attacking side will test England's goalless defensive record away from home under Glenn Hoddle to the limit. The English have acquired at this tournament a reputation for toughness.

One change, at least, will be made in the Brazilian defence with Mauro Silva suspended. With Aldair's place in doubt after his uncertain performance against Italy, Marcio Santos could be paired with Goncalves of Botafogo, who has recently been talking about how much he would like to play in the Premiership.

The real business for coach Zagallo and his squad comes this weekend in the Copa America, but an intriguing contest should be in prospect tonight. England may have already won a suprisingly keenly contested tournoi - the age-old problem of something being wrong with football's scoring system when the type of Brazilian football on display here does not merit the prize - but, if not exhausted from their efforts a mere 48 hours earlier, this budding team, promising to be better than the 94 World Cup-winning one, will surely give its all.