Are Brazil kicking beautiful game into touch?

There was an interesting diversity of opinion about Brazil's opening game and their opening goal against North Korea. Their first match at a World Cup is always eagerly awaited, and a combination of freezing weather at Ellis Park and disappointment with the preceding matches, heightened the rather desperate hope that we would see something special. Many of us were convinced in the end that we had at least seen some football well above the previous standard. Yet those who regularly follow the boys from Brazil felt it was well below par. They should be so lucky.

There was even debate about whether Maicon's goal, drilled in with the outside of his foot from an unlikely angle, was a piece of sublime South American flair or a fluke. Those of us brought up on Pele, Carlos Alberto and Zico wanted it to be the former whereas younger viewers less entranced by the magic of the yellow shirt were inclined to believe that fortune favoured the five-times winners.

Perhaps the second game, against Sven Goran Eriksson's Ivory Coast tonight, will offer further clues about whether coach Dunga really has moved the team too far away from the beautiful game, just at a time when their greatest rivals Argentina are grasping the mantle of most-admired team. It would make a final between the two all the more intriguing, but there is too far to go yet to consider that possibility.

Certainly the Brazilian coach, who dares to speak scathingly of even the great 1982 team on the basis that they won nothing, has made no secret of his desire to make winning the only thing. On taking over after a poor World Cup in 2006, he sent out a calculated message by dropping Kaka and Ronaldinho. The latter did not make this squad, while Kaka, on the evidence of the North Korea game, has not recovered from a poor season at Real Madrid.

Team-mates have been talking him up ever since, with Gilberto Silva insisting "in every game he will improve, I'm sure he will be much better". The acknowledgment that the fabled No 10 has been below par was significant. Fortunately, and no doubt to the surprise of Manchester City supporters, Brazil were able to summon up an outstanding performance from Robinho. Never mind a wet night in Wolverhampton; on a horrid one in the highveldt, he was superb. A repeat today and the Ivorians will be in trouble; if Kaka could find his form at the same time, even the doubters would be given pause for thought.

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