Football: Ronaldo fires Brazilian bravura

Brazil 3 Ronaldo 9, Rivaldo 45, Bebeto 50 Morocco 0 Att: 33, 266
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The Independent Online
THEY ARE receiving teams from Japan to Cameroon at La Beaujoire in this World Cup but there was only one country the Bretons put in the beach for. Several tons of sand were shipped into the city centre of this Atlantic Ocean port to create the Nantes Copacabana. Complete with beach volleyball courts and bikini-clad beauties all it lacked was a Nike camera crew, the muggers and sunshine.

After months of anticipation the Brazilians finally arrived this week and repaid the locals' enthusiasm. On Monday night, as Marseilles was under seige, a carnival was enjoyed by Brazilians, Moroccans and locals alike. Last night, watched by Glenn Hoddle and several England players, the footballers put on their own show.

It was not always a flowing performance but when it was good it was beautiful art. With goals from Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Bebeto it also made Brazil the first team to qualify for the knock-out stages. With Scotland and Norway having drawn earlier in the day at Bordeaux, the holders and favourites are four points clear in Group A with one match left. After playing Norway in Marseilles next Tuesday they will probably meet either Italy or Chile in the second round in Paris on 27 June.

The Brazilians are not yet firing on all cylinders but they are moving nicely through the gears. Ronaldo's first World Cup goal will ease his mood while Rivaldo, in the burdensome No 10 shirt, and the much-criticised Bebeto will also be relieved to have scored.

The various parts of the team combined more smoothly than against Scotland even if the spat between Dunga and Bebeto late in the first half hinted at tensions underneath. The biggest worry for Mario Zagallo will be the usual area of concern, the defence. Morocco caused Taffarel and his defenders several problems and the likes of Marcelo Salas or Alessandro Del Piero would cause plenty more.

But it is the attacking play which attracts people to Brazil - and inspires their game - and that was quickly displayed. Leonardo had a second-minute "goal" flagged offside after Morocco had been sliced open and Bebeto attempted to chip Driss Benzekri from 35 yards. Then, with eight minutes gone, Rivaldo picked out Ronaldo with a well-flighted ball over the top and the world's most acclaimed player calmly watched it bounce before volleying in.

Ten minutes later his World Cup, and much else, almost came to a premature end when a reckless lunge by Said Chiba was six inches away from the most vulnerable part of his anatomy. Astonishingly Chiba was not booked. Eventually Abdeljilil Hadda was cautioned for going over the top on Cafu but it was another match of unexpectedly lenient refereeing.

Morocco had their positive aspects and Moustafa Hadji, so effective against Norway, Abdelilah Saber and Chiba all had chances while Cesar Sampaio was booked for felling Youssef Chippo as he was shaping to shoot from 20 yards. As if feeling this rebellion was getting tiresome Brazil effectively settled the issue in first-half injury-time as Bebeto, Leonardo and Cafu combined for Rivaldo to tap in. Four minutes later, Ronaldo took advantage of a mistake by Saber to race towards goal. To the delight of La Beaujoire he unveiled the shimmy and, with Noureddine Naybet left floundering, he slipped the ball square for Bebeto to score with another tap-in.

Ronaldo mis-hit another chance just after the hour but Brazilian disappointment was assuaged when Edmundo, "The Animal", came on to a similar reception to the one Michael Owen received at the Stade Velodrome on Monday. They have little else in common as Edmundo quickly showed with a flashy but useless backheel.

Morocco, whose manager, Henri Michel, spent a long and distinguished playing career at this ground, kept on trying and almost scored on several occasions. England will have been left thinking that, while Brazil's attack may take some holding, some of their defending would not look out of place at either Hackney Marshes or the Copacabana Beach.

BRAZIL (2-4-2-2): Taffarel (Atletico Mineiro); Aldair (Roma), Junior Baiano (Flamengo); Cafu (Roma), Cesar Sampaio (Yokohama Flugels), Dunga (Jubilo Iwata), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid); Leonardo (Milan), Rivaldo (Barcelona); Ronaldo (Internazionale), Bebeto (Botafogo). Substitutes: Doriva (Porto) for Cesar Sampaio, 67; Edmundo (Fiorentina) for Bebeto, 72; Denilson (Sao Paulo) for Rivaldo, 88.

MOROCCO (4-3-1-2): Benzekri (RS Settat); Saber (Sporting Lisbon), Rossi (Stade Rennes), Naybet (Deportivo La Coruna), El Hadrioui (Benfica); Chiba (Compostela), El Khalej (Benfica), Chippo (Porto); Hadji (Deportivo La Coruna); Bassir (Deportivo La Coruna), Hadda (Club Africain). Substitutes: Amzine (Mulhouse) for Chiba, 76; Abrami (Wydad Casablanca) for Saber, 76; El Khattabi (Heerenveen) for Hadda, 89.

Referee: N Levnikov (Russia).