Football: Quiet please, Brazil are laying waste to their opponents
Friday 31 August 2012
The sun shone from a cloudless
sky, a slim, sleight figure, the No 10 - the footballers' number - on his back
jinked this way and that across the pitch, and moments later was left in a
crumpled heap on the ground, banging his hand on the pitch in pain and
frustration. His attacker, constructed with the solidity of a T34 tank - never
mind the classification feel the steel - accepted his yellow card with a shrug
and joined his Brazilian team-mates in forming a wall.
If the Paralympics is about one thing then it is altering perceptions and it could not have taken long for those in the Riverbank Arena, venue for the Olympic hockey and now hosting the blind five-a-side football, to have any pre-conceived notions about why Brazil are the best in the world given a hefty boot towards reality.
Since five-a-side was introduced in Athens, Brazil have won both gold medals, and they are also reigning world champions. They are the team to beat and they will take some beating, in part because yes, they do have that enticing flavour of the joga bonito - they have a pretty decent No 10 of their own in Ricardo - but also because they have the formidable Severino Gabriel da Silva laying waste to any opponent who dares cross the halfway line.
It is a success built on a mentality of they shall not pass (and if it seems as if they might be they will get a mighty boot). This was Brazil's 13th game in Paralympic history and the 11th time they have kept a clean sheet.
It was supposed to be the glamour fixture of the opening stages, Brazil against France, Europe's finest having won the last two continental titles, yet from the moment spectators are greeted with "Quiet please" signs - possibly taken from Highbury before it was demolished - it was apparent this was something different.
Spectators need to remain silent in order for the players to hear the rattle in the ball. Boards run along the side of the pitch and the basic tactic is for teams to position a man on either wing, allowing the goalkeeper, who is sighted, to roll the ball off the boards for the wide men to pick up and dribble at the opposition defence. The close control is the most compelling part of the spectacle. France's No 10 Frederic Villeroux was the best player on the pitch, outshining his Brazilian counter-part and Jefinho, who had been expected to dazzle for the favourites.
It was Villeroux for whom the formidable Da Silva reserved his most severe attention. Twice he sent the French captain crashing into the boards and it was his third assault that drew the yellow card and surely made the Brazilian the first Paralympian to be booed in London, albeit mildly. The match finished goalless, Da Silva finished with four fouls to his name - five mean an automatic substitution - and Villeroux a collection of bruises.
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