In the land of the beautiful game, football is becoming ugly. While the Brazilian national team have long been a divine presence, the domestic scene has become a brutal, violent affair that would render Saturday's Hearts vs Rangers skirmish - when the Edinburgh side were reduced to seven men - a picnic by comparison.
Some teams have even been accused of employing a rota system, allowing their defenders to take turns to kick the opposition's best player. This reduces the chances of the same player picking up two yellow cards.
One recent match-cum-melee was that between Flamengo and Corinthians. In the first minute, the Flamengo striker Savio was bowled over by a vicious challenge from behind by Corinthians' Alexandre Lopes, for which he only received a yellow card. The lightly built Savio has been advised by the national coach, Mario Zagalo, to cut down on dribbling to save his shins from further punishment.
Some coaches have been accused of perpetuating the violence by ignoring the conduct of their own players. Throughout the Corinthians match, the Flamengo coach, Joel Santana, was heard to berate the violence of his opponents and the leniency of the referee. But when asked about a challenge by Alejandro Mancuso that dispatched Corinthians' Souza to the treatment table before half-time, Santana replied: "Mancuso is macho."
Incidentally, Flamengo's latest signing is the defender Junior Baiano, sacked by Werder Bremen after receiving a 10-match ban for punching an opponent in a Bundesliga match.
Dynamo Kiev, who won the Soviet championship 13 times, the Soviet cup nine times and the European Cup-Winners' Cup twice, have imposed a "state of emergency". The club have granted their coach, Yozhef Sabo, sweeping powers "to establish order and discipline" after a series of dismal results. Dynamo were knocked out in the qualifying round of the European Champions' League last month by Rapid Vienna, and they could only manage a 0-0 draw at home in the Uefa Cup against Neuchatel Xamax.
Sabo, empowered to cut pay of players and other coaches and cancel bonuses, was particularly unhappy about the forward Viktor Leonenko. Last year Leonenko was demoted to Dynamo's second team after being accused by his coach of lack of discipline, gaining weight and excessive beer drinking. Speculation that Leonenko is a transfer target of Arsene Wenger is unfounded.
Michel Platini, the former French captain and coach, now the president of the World Cup 98 organising committee, was yesterday extolling the virtues of the green stuff that will be crucial to the tournament - grass, not money.
"The grass is the image 27 billion television viewers will keep in mind. I'm very fond of lawns," he said. "I remember Atletico Madrid's pitch at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. I did not play against Austria that day, but I walked on the grass barefoot because it was so beautiful."
The grass earmarked for the new Stade de France will be an English brand noted for its robustness along with a French type renowned for its hard- wearing qualities.
Andrew MartinReuse content