Football: Denilson delivers decisive moment

Ronaldo enhances his reputation but Brazil's substitute provides the cutting edge. By Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online
THIRTEEN CENTURIES ago the French buried their kings at St Denis, yesterday they came to watch Brazil inter the Scots. They ultimately got their wish but the corpse showed so much life, and the priest fluffed so many of his lines, they ended the service cheering for the departed. A brief reprise for the "auld alliance".

Ronaldo apart, Brazil were made to look no better than half a dozen of the leading contenders for this quadrennial prize. Nervous at the back, lacking imagination in midfield and penetration in attack, they were fortunate to win.

It was not the performance they had hoped for to assuage the doubts about team selection and form and, around their base near Paris, and at home in the shanty-town favelas and beachfront apartments of Rio, the arguments will continue.

The anticipated gulf between yesterday's protagonists was summed up by the two number 19s. On the Brazilian bench sat Denilson, who joins Real Betis for pounds 20m next month, on the Scottish was Derek Whyte, who joined Aberdeen for pounds 350,000 last season.

That neither player started said rather more about Brazil's depth than Scotland's but, to his many detractors it also spoke eloquently about Mario Zagallo's departure from Brazilian traditions.

To Brazilians, and the rest of the world, the selecao represents the soul of the game. They are the team which achieve what the rest can only aspire to. Yet Zagallo plays Dunga and Cesar Sampaio and leaves Denilson on the bench.

The pair do for Brazil what Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira do for Arsenal, and since Zagallo won the last World Cup on the same philosophy, it is hardly a surprise that he persists with it. However, the nature of Brazil's last win was accepted because it ended a 24-year hiatus. This time victory is expected in style.

Which brings us back to Denilson. He does the sort of things Brazilians are supposed to do. He runs at people with pace, drops shoulders, throws body swerves, leaves defenders trailing. He did all this when Zagallo eventually introduced him with one left-wing burst setting up the passage of play that led to Brazil's winner.

But he also played the risky passes and showy Ginola-esque backflicks that Zagallo hates. The Brazilian manager likes players who keep the ball with neat passes, not ones like Denilson - and Juninho - who are prone to give it away as they attack opponents. Most coaches would agree with Zagallo. The days of Garrincha and Matthews are gone. Scotland play Craig Burley on the right flank, not Jimmy Johnstone. Yet Brazil are supposed to be different. Yesterday Denilson helped them to open up Scotland.

Rivaldo, who bears the burden of both wearing the famous No 10 shirt and, with Giovanni, keeping Denilson and Juninho out, had his moments. There were a couple of breaks and a series of shots, but he is a more muscular, less tricky player. The man who has both is, of course, Ronaldo. Though Colin Hendry and Colin Calderwood played him as well as most mortals can, the game moved on to a different plane whenever the the ball went near him.

One dummy left Calderwood blundering into him and freed Rivaldo, a burst of pace startled Hendry, and there was that mazy dribble which left Hendry, Darren Jackson and Tommy Boyd floundering. He even switched to the left wing at one point and produced a step-over to savour before drilling in a text-book cross.

He, it appears, is ready to light up this tournament. His team look less sure-footed though they will be much happier for securing three points. Now they play Morocco with the prospect of making their second round place safe before having to face a Norway side that thumped them 4-2 last year.

Scotland also have to deal with Norway but will take confidence from their defensive discipline, attacking movement and midfield composure. They are far from dead and buried.