Brazil striker Robinho's individual goal in the 2-0 win over Italy on Tuesday was as exasperating as it was brilliant, reinforcing the view that he only shines for his country when the stakes are low. The Manchester City forward mesmerised the Italians at the Emirates Stadium, but Brazilian supporters may wish that he had saved some of his magic for a much more important game next month.
Brazil travel to Quito on 28 March to face Ecuador 2,800 metres above sea level in a World Cup qualifier. The combination of difficult, physical opponents and high altitude makes this one of the toughest fixtures of Brazil's 18-match qualifying campaign, and they have lost 1-0 on their previous two visits to Quito in 2001 and 2004. It is exactly the sort of game in which Brazil need Robinho's trickery the most and in which, so far, he has struggled to provide it.
Robinho's goal against Italy was his 19th for his country in 59 appearances, several coming in friendlies against modest opponents such as Hong Kong, Canada and a Kuwait Select team. He scored six times in the Copa America in 2007, including four in two games against a Chilean side in disarray, but none was in the semi-final or final.
In the current World Cup qualifying campaign he has managed three goals, two against a defensively weak Venezuelan team in October and one away to Chile in August, one of the few times he has shone in more demanding circumstances. However, he barely made an impression in the 2-0 defeat in Paraguay and goalless draws against Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia in which Brazil badly needed his creative skills to break down uncompromising defences.
Robinho was delighted to get on the scoresheet and even happier to kick-off the year with victory against the World Champions. "It was a beautiful goal," he said. "We have started this year on the right foot and can do better. Against Italy it is always difficult to win. It should be noted that we won well against a great team, the world champions. Everyone is leaving happy.
"We moved well as a team. Right from the start of the game, we played the ball well, imposing from then our rhythm of play. When we do that it is very difficult for our opponents. We showed our quality, we won and we did it in convincing fashion."
Brazil coach Dunga, in typically dour mood, preferred to praise his players for their discipline rather than their individual inspiration. "We have to have tactical obedience and marking and when we can have possession, we can enjoy ourselves," he said.
"We showed that Brazilian players are tactically disciplined. The old story that Brazilian players are indisciplined and don't mark, that they don't chase back, belongs in the past. All of our players were looking to mark their opponents."