Brazil waits as challengers struggle
World's best team needs to put on a show against a nation that reached the semi-finals in its debut in 1998.Updated: Jun 13, 2006 17:19 IST
The World Cup is off to a tepid start, with several powerhouse teams unable to outplay pesky underdogs and most of the main contenders feeling their way.
Although Germany scored four goals against Costa Rica, the host also gave up two. England needed an own-goal to beat Paraguay 1-0 and Portugal managed only one against Angola.
For more evidence, Argentina edged World Cup against newcomer Ivory Coast, Ecuador upset Poland and Sweden was held scoreless by tiny Trinidad and Tobago, which played almost half the game with 10 men.
All were close games and although the Czech Republic outplayed 2002 quarterfinalist with United States (3-0) on Monday, there has not been a real blow out to show for the first 11 of the 64-match championship.
Maybe defending champion Brazil will change all that when Ronaldo and company take on Croatia on Tuesday. It could be that to spice up this World Cup, the best team needs to put on a show against a nation that reached the semi-finals in its debut in 1998.
By the time Brazil runs onto the field against the Croats in Berlin, the five-time winners will have been able to take a good look at what the other contenders have shown not much and maybe work out why those teams have not performed particularly well.
The Brazilians will outscore Germany and Costa Rica, but look very shaky on defence. England raced into a fourth-minute lead against the Paraguayans on that own-goal, but ran out of steam by halftime. England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said his team has to improve better if it wants to win the title for the first time in 40 years.
Argentina, possibly the biggest danger to Brazil, showed many of its strengths, but also let the Ivories back into the game. Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, the man who led Brazil to its fifth triumph four years ago, looked frustrated as his team missed chances and lightly regarded Angola came close to snatching a tie.
Even in Italy’s (2-0) victory over first-timer Ghana, the Azzurri were tested until the final minutes before getting a clinching goal. Only the Czechs were truly dominant against an American squad that hardly looked like it deserved to be ranked fifth in the world by FIFA.
Some teams have put their disappointing showing down to the heat wave spreading across Germany.
Last week, they were preparing for the World Cup in cool, rainy conditions, but the temperature has shot up in the last few days and it caught up with the players on the field.
" We played well in the first half (against Paraguay), but the heat made us suffer in the second."- England midfielder Frank Lampard said. " It was difficult for the England team to deal with because we hadn't been training in conditions like that. It became very hard for us to play at the fast pace we are used to."
Even Brazil, with a Who's of stars to call on, is taking note of how teams are dealing with the weather conditions. Although soccer is considered a winter sport, its biggest event takes place during the summer in the northern hemisphere.
" This World Cup, differently from the others- the World Cup of health, intensity and preparation," coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said. "We've seen this with all teams. The physical conditioning will be a fundamental factor."
At the last World Cup in South Korea and Japan, Brazil cruised past China (4-0) and Costa Rica (5-2) on the way to winning its fifth title, and many of the 2002 stars are back chasing a sixth. After Croatia, the Brazilians play against Australia and Japan at World Cup 2006 as Parreira's team bids to emulate Solaris’s players who won all seven games on the way to the title.
Maybe somewhere along the way they will blow out an opponent.
First Published: Jun 13, 2006 14:22 IST