Football: Scots will feel heat of blaze from Brazil

Aston Villa's Mark Bosnich has a warning for Scotland after experiencin g Zagallo's formidable side in full flow. By Phil Shaw
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MARK BOSNICH has to smile when he hears a Premiership crowd singing: "It's just like watching Brazil." Having played one of the games of his life against them and still let in six goals, he is painfully qualified to warn Scotland and all who have designs on the world champions' crown: Ronaldo in full cry is like nothing you have ever seen.

Aston Villa's coveted goalkeeper played for Australia against Brazil twice at the Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia last December. The first time, when Ronaldo was partnered by Bebeto, he was relatively untroubled as Terry Venables' Socceroos gained a 0-0 draw.

Eight days later, with Romario alongside Ronaldo, the Brazilians turned on a ruthless, relentless exhibition of firepower to demolish Australia 6-0 in the final. Both front men collected a hat-trick, leaving Bosnich fearful for Scotland's Jim Leighton in the Stade de France tomorrow.

"I know a lot of the Scottish players, as well as Alan Hodgkinson, who coached Jim and myself when we were at Old Trafford," he says. "I've also got a lot of time for Craig Brown and the way he's made them strong defensively. But being brutally honest, I can't see them stopping Brazil.

"If we can hold them, then in theory Scotland can too because they're a better team than us. But they'll have to play out of their skins because we're talking about the best of the best, with five or six world-class talents, plus arguably the best player on the planet in Ronaldo."

In the goalless game, explains Bosnich, Venables countered Mario Zagallo's customary 4-4-2 with the 3-5-2 formation favoured by Brown. The wing-backs were instructed to ensure that if one went forward, the other held back. Australia defended deep and in numbers, smothering attacks rather than allowing the ball to be played into space behind them.

"We contained them quite comfortably. It seemed hilarious to see them pumping hopeful balls into the box with 10 minutes to go, and to hear them getting irate every time I took my time over a goal-kick. Afterwards they didn't shake hands or swap jerseys because they felt we'd been a bit awkward, which we are."

When they reconvened in Riyadh four days before Christmas, Bosnich paid for his cheek. "Boy, did they get their own back," he recalls. "They gave us a hell of a lesson, as if to show they could do it when it mattered. I know they've had a couple of bad results in friendlies but in a competitive situation, it's a different matter. For the first 20 minutes I've never been so tired in a match."

Australia's cause was not helped by having a player sent off at 1-0, but what impressed Bosnich was the way Brazil kept up the siege. "At 3- 0 their bench were signalling and shouting for them to take it easy, but they were going, 'No'. They wanted to rub our noses in it and score 10 if possible.

"I remember Ronaldo being clean through in the last minute and I thought: 'Oh no, seven'. The only time I'd let in six before was in the Olympic semi-final against Poland. Mercifully, he hit it against my legs."

The irony is that Bosnich rates that display as among his best; better, for instance, than his acclaimed defiance for Villa at Atletico Madrid in the Uefa Cup last March. It is just he encountered finishing for which even European competition is no preparation.

"Whereas Romario was more clinical, Ronaldo was the better all-round player. There's no greater or more awesome sight than him running at you with the ball, believe me. His upper body build reminds me of Dwight [Yorke] and he's got the same low centre of gravity. What's frightening is that he's so young and will get even better."

In the absence of Romario, who Bosnich describes as "an iced assassin", Brazil are likely to chose between Bebeto and Edmundo as Ronaldo's foil. Bosnich faced Bebeto when he played for the Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna. He found him dangerous, though less so than Romario. The attacks, he suspects, will be just as mesmerising.

"One of the front two goes short, the other comes in behind, and vice versa. Wherever they're going, the ball usually goes in the opposite direction. That's part of the plan. If they start running away from goal, nine times out of 10 the ball will be going back over the defenders' heads. If you come too close to them they'll get past you with their pace off the mark. And if you stand off them they'll take the ball to feet, turn and run at you."

While Juninho's recovery from injury came too late for him to make the finals, Bosnich still expects the holders to carry more destructive capacity than Scotland may be able to handle. "Denilson, wide on the left, is unbelievable. He's got a couple of incredible tricks. My mate Kevin Muscat, from Wolves, said he had two 'step-overs', which he does so fast they're like a blur. You're trying to work it out and he's gone.

"Dunga was man of the match in the final. He sat right in front of the centre-backs and his distribution was staggering. He was picking out attackers with 50-yard passes and they didn't have to adjust their feet. Then there's Roberto Carlos with his swerving free-kicks."

Bosnich, like Venables, was also struck by a camaraderie which belies speculation about Brazil being a divided squad. "They're obviously mates as well as team-mates. In a funny way, all turning up for the final with shaved heads showed their togetherness." Pressed as to whether he expects them to be back at St Denis for another final, he replies: "They've got to be favourites, but it's hard for South American teams to win the World Cup in Europe."

The final advice from one who has been at the eye of a Brazilian storm: "Don't commit yourself," Bosnich urges Scotland. "They don't like it when you wait and wait. They love you to make the first move. As soon as you do, they're off."