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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brazil, Spain and the beautiful game: 2010 in Review

In recognition of the New Year, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on what we as a community of writers and thinkers about football have accomplished since this blog was launched, soon after the 2010 World Cup, roughly 6 months ago. This year, in football, we saw the ascendancy of Spain as World Cup champions for the first time in history alongside the emergence of promising young teams from Germany, Ghana and Uruguay. Spain's passing game emerged as a model of tactical awareness and coherence for teams all over the world to emulate. Our postings examined the legacy of Carlos Dunga to the national team, Mano Menezes's efforts to renovate the Selecao, deadly strike partnerships such as Romario and Bebeto, teen Santos sensations Neymar and Ganso, AC Milan starlets Ronaldinho, Pato and Robinho, the brilliance of Lionel Messi, Kaka's recovery from knee surgery and the widely controversial appointment of Leonardo Nascimento de Araujo as coach of Inter Milan.

We have also begun a deeper investigation into the history of Brazilian football more generally. We have had the privilege to reflect on Brazil's historic loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final, the legendary team of 1982, the World Cup championship team of 1994 as well as the teams of 1998 and 2002. All this leaves us ample territory in the months and years ahead, to dig deeper into the history of Brazilian football by covering teams and players that have gradually been erased from historical memory online and, to a lesser extent, in print as well.

We saw glimpses of the beautiful game in Brazil 2002, when Luiz Felipe Scolari fielded 6 attacking players in the early matches in the form of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Juninho Paulista, Roberto Carlos and Cafu. This year, Spain's Barcelona midfield quartet of Iniesta, Xabi, Xavi Alonso and Busquets gave us yet another tantalizing glimpse of beautiful football, but their elegant passing needs to be supplemented by more firepower up front in order to earn a place amongst the top 5 teams in footballing history.

We believe a historical investigation into Brazilian football will enable us to describe, recover and ultimately restore the true spirit of the beautiful game. We have an interest in stylish, attacking football and players and coaches that have a similar investment. And in all this, we have a larger interest in freedom, creativity, aesthetics and the capacity of sport qua art to enrich our lives with models of collaboration, mentorship, friendship, closeness, creativity and passionate modalities of self-expression.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Leonardo Nascimento de Araujo Quotes on AC Milan, 2009 - 2010

On coaching AC Milan for the 2009-2010 season:

"[AC Milan] was great...Thiago Silva needed confidence, directions. Europe isn't easy for a skilled Brazilian defender. Abate and Antonini had to improve mentally and believe: I can. It's nice to see Antonini on the national side. Borriello needed room. Dida never said anything, but he worked like a madman. He was great. Pirlo's silence was powerful. Ambrosini carried us in his first year as captain. Seedorf showed character. Ronaldinho regained his energy and enthusiasm. Occasionally he would start to fade and I would give him a push and he would come back. Pato's first season as a starter was marked by injuries and difficulties. Nesta returned after being written off. It was great. From the exterior they look like champions, but from an insider's view they are fragile, sensitive people. Leading them was personally an exciting and gratifying experience. It was great."

On his decision to leave and Silvio Berlusconi:

"Milan was so many things for me. I was a player, executive and coach for the club. At a certain point in time, after 13 years with the club, I thought that I would be with Milan forever. Instead, I broke it off. I'm going to need this year to change who I am, to see things objectively, not as part of the AC Milan organisation."

"Let's make two things clear. The first is that I would have never left after 13 years for tactical reasons, also because today Milan play the same way as they did before. The second thing is that I decided to leave. I forewent the final year of my contract to leave on the best terms possible. I left because my character and style were not compatible with his. I said all the same things to him. Narcissus does not like anything that is not a reflection of him."

Read the full text of the September 2010 interview with Leonardo here:
"Leonardo takes a Swipe: Berlusconi like Narcissus." La Gazzetta dello Sport. September 18, 2010. Interview by Luigi Garlando.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Leonardo appointed coach of Inter Milan

Former Brazilian international, World Cup champion and AC Milan manager Leonardo has been hired as coach of Inter Milan, just one day after the termination of Rafael Benitez's contract. Benitez's termination marked the end of a 6 month stint after the Spaniard took over from Jose Mourinho, who secured a historic treble with the club by winning Serie A, the Champions League and Coppa Italia in the 2009-2010 season. Defending champions Inter are currently in seventh place in Italy's Serie A, with 23 points from 15 games, while arch-rivals AC Milan sit atop the league with 36 points from 17 games. Leonardo's previous coaching experience is limited to the 2009-2010 season with AC Milan, as a result of which his team finished third in Serie A. The Brazilian is known for creating stylish, attack oriented teams that play with a 4-3-3 formation where possible. Like his compatriots Luiz Felipe Scolari and Zico, Leonardo's coaching philosophy is fundamentally Brazilian with its emphasis on one touch passing, dribbling through defenders and taking the attack to the opposing team. The Brazilian left AC Milan as coach after failing to get along with club President Silvio Berlusconi. Leonardo's appointment as coach of Inter Milan stuns the football world given his long standing history as player, scout, technical director and coach of the club's foremost rival, AC Milan. His appointment runs from December 29, 2010 until June 2012.

For an article on Leonardo and World Cup 1994, see:
Bringing Back the Beautiful Game: Flashback: Tears of Regret and Friendship: Bebeto and Leonardo in World Cup 1994

Friday, December 24, 2010

Flashback: Tears of Regret and Friendship: Bebeto and Leonardo in World Cup 1994

Pele's tears of joy after Brazil won the 1958 World Cup in Sweden are well documented in photographic and video archives, as are Mario Zagallo's tears of joy in World Cup 1998 and Romario's tears of sadness after failing to make the 1998 World Cup squad. Less well known are Leonardo's tears of regret after earning a red card for elbowing Tab Ramos in the Brazil v. USA second round match of World Cup 1994. The Brazil v. USA match famously marked the continued evolution of the Romario and Bebeto strike partnership, featuring, in this case, Romario's assist to Bebeto after overcoming a tangle of defenders. Romario's pass set up Bebeto's game winning, Carlos Alberto-like strike on goal past Tony Meola from the right flank. Bebeto described Leonardo's tears in a FIFA interview as follows:

"When I went into the dressing room at half-time in that game, I saw Leo, someone I've always been very fond of because we started out together with Flamengo. He was sitting there in the corner, crying his eyes out, so I told him not to worry as I would score the winning goal for us."

Bebeto returns to the dressing room at half time to find Leonardo bawling his eyes out and consoles him by telling him he will score the winning goal and negate the setback to the Brazil team created by Leonardo's red card. In this exchange, Bebeto performs what contemporary psychologists call self-actualization by visualizing himself scoring the crucial game winning goal. True to his vision, Bebeto went on to score in precisely the manner that he promised to his friend and teammate Leonardo.

Speaking of his promise to Leonardo, Bebeto remarked:

"And with the help of God I did. When I returned to the dressing room afterwards, he gave me a big hug and thanked me profusely. Without a doubt, I felt something very strong in that game. Something God-given."

Something viscerally powerful about the friendship between Bebeto and Leonardo sparks Brazil's victory. Leonardo's tears touch Bebeto to the point where he assumes responsibility for his friend's sadness, and he returns to the pitch intent to restore his friend's spirits. And after the ball touches the back of the net, Bebeto becomes convinced that Brazil will indeed become four times champions with a conviction that borders on the sublime. "From that moment, I was convinced that we would become four-time World Cup winners," Bebeto reflected.

A similar red card incident transpired the next time Brazil won the World Cup in 2002 in the quarterfinals against England. Ronaldinho received a red card for a foul on Danny Mills and this time, Cafu played the role that Bebeto had played in 1994, by putting his arm around Ronaldinho's shoulder as he was leaving the field and telling him with uncanny conviction: "Don't worry. We will win the game for you."

For more on Brazil v. USA, World Cup 1994, see:

Bringing Back the Beautiful Game. Deadly Striker Partnerships: Romario and Bebeto (Part 2 of 2)

Sources cited: Bebeto's FIFA Interview

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Report: Ronaldinho Considering Leaving AC Milan for Gremio, Palmeiras or Sao Paulo

Rumors out of Brazil suggest that Ronaldinho is seriously considering leaving AC Milan for Gremio, Palmeiras or Sao Paulo. Dinho has recently fallen out of favor at the Rossoneri under coach Massimiliano Allegri and has struggled to obtain quality playing time given the stunning form of recent signings Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ronaldinho's brother and agent Roberto de Assis remarked that Dinho still had the desire to capture trophies that he had yet to secure such as the Brasileirao and the Copa Libertadores by returning to a quality club in Brazil. Gremio President Paulo Odone noted that he felt “optimistic” that Dinho will return to the club that marked the site of his formative years. "Ronaldinho feels that he owes our club something," Odone told Brazilian daily Zero Hora. "He told us he wants to return to Gremio and end his career where it started.” Gremio announced that “there is advanced contact between Gremio and the brother and agent of the player” and Odone feels the chances of closing Dinho’s transfer from the Rossoneri are high. Palmeiras and Sao Paulo have also expressed interest in signing the Brazilian playmaker whose contract with AC Milan is set to expire in the summer of 2011. Meanwhile, the legendary Brazilian striker Zico threw Flamengo’s hat into the ring for Dinho’s signing by recently announcing that Flamengo desperately needed a player with Ronaldinho’s skill to bring about the restoration of the club after this year’s disastrous season. January would be the optimal time for a Brazilian club to sign Dinho but a transfer in the summer of 2011 is more likely. That said, AC Milan’s recent signing of Antonio Cassano from Sampdoria has fueled fresh speculation that Dinho may leave Berlusconi’s nest in the January transfer window to return to Brazil, and ultimately conclude his career with a much anticipated swan song season at LA Galaxy in the United States in 2012. If Dinho were to return to Brazil, he would be following in the footsteps of his former World Cup teammates Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, who, along with Santos sensation Neymar, have gradually begun to reverse the trend of Brazilian players plying their trade in foreign shores.

For more on Ronaldinho, see:
Bringing Back the Beautiful Game: Player Profile: Ronaldinho Gaucho

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Flashback: Tears of Sadness for Romario Upon His Exclusion from the 1998 Brazil World Cup Squad

"This is very sad for me, a big disappointment. This is a very difficult moment in my life. From now on, I will start to give value to other things. I just want to thank the national team for having given me the chance to become what I am."

--Romario, June 2, 1998, press conference in Lesigny, France, on his exclusion from the 1998 World Cup squad because of a calf injury

Romario broke down in tears at a press conference after it was announced that he would not accompany the Brazil team to the 1998 World Cup in France. Team doctor Lidio Toledo explained that a recent scan revealed significant damage to Romario's right calf muscle that would require 2-4 weeks to heal, and possibly longer. Coach Mario Zagallo remarked that a decision about Romario's inclusion in the 1998 World Cup squad had been delayed given Romario's status and unique ability to change a game, but that the scan had unilaterally made the difficult decision for the coaching staff. Romario broke down in tears three times during the press conference before he was ultimately escorted off stage. His exclusion from the World Cup squad put an end to the mouthwatering prospect of Romario and Ronaldo partnering together as strikers in front of goal. For at least two years before France 1998, football fans all over the world dreamed about the prospect of the legendary "Ro Ro" combination as the stage on which the World Cup would unfold. The "Ro Ro" combination featured the feared combination of Ronaldo, with his explosive pace and power, partnered alongside Romario, the best finisher in the penalty area in the modern game. Despite having forged an unforgettable strike partnership with Bebeto in 1994, Romario fully admitted that Ronaldo was his preferred strike partner, and Ronaldo in turn, said the same of Romario. In Romario's case, Ronaldo easily detracted the attention of 2-3 defenders, leaving him plenty of space in the box to turn and shoot when delivered the ball. And on Ronaldo's side, the relationship was very much that of an apprentice to a master, in which the 22 year old claimed that he still had much to learn from the 32 year old striker who brought Brazil their first World Cup trophy in 24 years. "We had plans for this World Cup," Ronaldo remarked, "but now they won't happen." As the World Cup in France wore on, news leaked that Ronaldo was missing his preferred strike partner up front because Bebeto was unable to serve as the decoy he needed to break down defenses. Conversely, Romario's tears spoke less about his investment in the World Cup itself, and more about his desire to play alongside the young sensation Ronaldo, his friend, student and mentor, all in one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Boateng, Robinho and Ibrahimovic score in AC Milan's 3-0 victory over Bologna

Kevin Prince Boateng, Robinho and Ibrahimovic scored for the second consecutive game as AC Milan beat Bologna 3-0 today to go 6 points clear over Juventus at the top of Italy's Serie A standings. The sequence of goals by Boateng, Robinho and Ibrahimovic replicated their performance against Brescia on December 4 while Ronaldinho continued his stint on the Milan bench in the wake of Robinho's sparkling form. Boateng opened the scoring for the Rossoneri by latching onto a ball delivered by Ibrahimovic from the left flank, slipping in between two central defenders in the box and volleying the ball home. Boateng subsequently provided the assist for Robinho who maintained his balance in the wake of some staunch defending from Andrea Esposito and slotted the ball by Bologna keeper Viviano in the 35th minute. Ibrahimovic put the exclamation mark on an impressive victory for AC Milan in the 60th minute with a clinical strike on goal from the right flank. With 21 goals shared between Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho this season (9 for Ibrahimovic, 6 for Pato and 6 for Robinho), Massimilliano Allegri has reason to be more than satisfied with his strikeforce as the Rossoneri prepare for their final game of 2010 against Roma on Saturday, December 18. As the January transfer window opens, the obvious question now for Allegri and Berlusconi concerns Ronaldinho's future at the Rossoneri in the wake of Robinho's impressive form and Pato's anticipated return from injury early in 2011.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flashback: Tears of Joy for Mario Zagallo After Brazil's Victory Against Netherlands

July 7, 1998, Stade Velodrome, Marseille, France
World Cup Semi-Finals: Brazil v. Netherlands (1-1; 4-2 on penalties)


Football fans await the World Cup with baited breath every four years, but the World Cup of 1998 figured exceptionally in the hearts and dreams of soccer fans all over the world because of one man: Ronaldo. The buck toothed Brazilian striker had been in blistering form in 1996 and 1997 with Barcelona and Inter Milan respectively. In the 1996-1997 season, he scored 47 goals in 49 games for Barcelona and went on to score 34 goals in 47 games for Inter in the 1997-1998 season, his first in Italian football. Although he had accompanied the Brazilian team to World Cup glory in 1994 at the tender age of 18, Ronaldo did not play in a single World Cup game in the U.S. and hence was widely expected to take the 1998 World Cup by storm. Now, at the age of 22, Ronaldo commanded the field as if he were a 30 year old after having had the experience of captaining Inter Milan in the latter stages of a gripping battle for the Scudetto that saw Inter inched out of the title by Juventus in the final games.

Having reached the semi-finals against Holland, only two games stood between Brazil and World Cup victory. Coached by Mario Zagallo, Brazil arrived in France as favorites, largely on the strength of Ronaldo’s shoulders and his ability to change a game. The team had just come through a thrilling 3-2 victory over Denmark in the round of 16, but they knew the Dutch would be more organized and exhibit a greater degree of ball control than the Danes. Zagallo fielded a 4-2-2-2 formation with Roberto Carlos, Aldair, Junior Baiano and Cafu in defense, Dunga and Cesar Sampaio in defensive midfield, Rivaldo and Leonardo as attacking midfielders and strikers Ronaldo and Bebeto up front wearing the number 9 and 20 shirts respectively. Full-backs Roberto Carlos and Cafu had carte blanche license to supplement the Brazilian attack by roaming up and down the flanks. As the tournament unfolded, Brazil fans warmed to the brilliance of Barcelona striker Rivaldo, whose golden left foot scored two pivotal goals in the preceding match against Denmark.

The Dutch fielded their share of world class talent in a standard, European 4-4-2 formation with Phillip Cocu, Frank de Boer, Jaap Stam and Michael Reiziger in defense, Zenden, Edgar Davids, Wim Jonk and Ronald de Boer in midfield, and the illustrious strike partnership of Patrick Kluivert and Dennis Bergkamp up front. The game featured two central match-ups: Dunga and Edgar Davids went head to head in the battle for midfield while Jaap Stam was given the Herculean assignment of man marking Ronaldo. Given the history of Brazil’s climactic 3-2 victory against Holland in the 1994 World Cup, both teams began gingerly, treating each other with tremendous respect and collectively creating a first half stalemate as the Dutch did well to contain Brazil's overlapping full-backs and render it difficult for Rivaldo and Leonardo to create space in midfield. Conversely, Aldair and Junior Baiano gave Bergkamp little room to play and shut down the supply of passes to Patrick Kluivert.

Scarcely had the whistle blown after half-time, however, than Roberto Carlos found Rivaldo, who in turn delivered a terrific through ball to a Ronaldo who raced into space behind the Dutch defense, fended off shirt pulling from Frank de Boer and buried the ball through the legs of Edwin van der Sar to open the scoring. In this piece of play, we saw Ronaldo at his trademark best, getting away from his marker Stam and maintaining his balance on the run despite Frank de Boer’s efforts to restrain him. But despite numerous opportunities for Brazil to capitalize on their lead, they failed to score a second goal and ultimately fell prey to the aerial strength of the Dutch in the form of a header equalizer by Patrick Kluivert in the 87th minute. Nevertheless, Brazil continued to threaten both deep into regular play and the 30 minutes of injury time. Denilson entered the game as a substitute for Bebeto in the 70th minute and he and Roberto Carlos took ownership of the left flank, creating multiple opportunities for Ronaldo and Rivaldo in the process. Ronaldo had a bicycle kick chance on goal that was defended off the line by Frank de Boer in addition to a curling, right footed shot saved by Edwin van der Sar as the game turned into a nerve racking battle with the prospect of the match ending at any minute in extra time given the golden goal rule.

At every moment in which play was suspended, Zagallo talked earnestly to his team. Stepping out of his usual contemplative position on the bench, he passionately delivered instructions to his team and waved his hands in illustration as the match wore on into extra time. As the referee blew the whistle for penalty kicks, both teams collapsed in exhaustion on the pitch. Zagallo began yelling wildly and moved from player to player, embracing their faces with his hands like a father and injecting a final dose of energy, power and belief into his team. He told them that Brazil was going to win the match and ultimately lift the trophy in the final. And after Taffarel made the final save in the dramatic penalty shoot-out, the "Old Wolf" as Zagallo is nicknamed in Brazil, burst into tears of joy.

The 66 year old Zagallo had broken down into tears after Brazil's thrilling 3-2 victory against Denmark in the quarterfinals. Flushed with deep feelings after the Denmark game, Zagallo required medication to calm his irregular heartbeat. But after the semi-final victory against the Netherlands, the Brazilian celebrations were even more effusive than against Denmark since the nerve jangling victory had required penalty kick conversions from Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Emerson and Dunga, and near clairvoyant saves from goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel. On the pitch, Dunga and Taffarel chest humped each other in celebration. Meanwhile, on the bench, Zagallo burst into tears as he was hugged by Zico and the rest of the Brazil coaching staff. Unable to contain himself, Zagallo strolled onto the Stade Velodrome somberly, took off his spectacles and wiped the tears flowing from his eyes as he took stock of the stunning victory. Despite all his experience as both a player and a coach, Zagallo wept on the field for two matches in a row like an Italian at the opera. Calming his racing heart, the Old Wolf celebrated with tears of joy as he looked ahead to the dream final where Brazil would defend their World Cup title against the home team at the Stade de France on Sunday.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tears in Brazilian Football

In the spirit of the holidays, and the deep feelings and reflective moments specific to the season, "Bringing Back the Beautiful Game" will feature at least two articles on tears in Brazilian football by Christmas. Whether they be tears of joy, or tears of sadness, we will examine at least a couple of occasions on which the Selecao and its teammates have been moved to tears in various moments. Part of our mission in this blog is to reflect on the passions within the game and football's ability to transport fans, players and coaches to moving emotional states that are linked to powerful and beautiful actions. In an August 31, 2010 article, I wrote about Pele seeing his father cry for the first time after Brazil's shock defeat to Uruguay on July 16, 1950 in the World Cup final. The upcoming articles will shift their focus to tears specific to players or coaches. Suggestions for articles on the topic of tears are wholly welcome, so do send them our way. Thanks so much.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Kaka on His Swimming Pool Accident, Jesus and the Bible

Many readers have requested more details about Kaka's religious beliefs and how he overcame the swimming pool accident in which he sustained a broken neck in October 2000. In the following testimony, Kaka touches on his life trajectory and faith in Jesus in his own words.

By Ricardo Kaka, July 2010

When I was eight, I moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil (from Cuiaba, Brazil) where I began to play soccer (football). I have always loved to play soccer.

I played on the Junior Team for Sao Paulo in 2000. We were in the middle of the Paulista Junior Championships when I received a yellow card. I was suspended for the following game, so I took advantage of the free weekend to visit my grandparents, who lived in Caldas Novas at the time.

My brother, my parents, my grandparents and I went to a water park. As I was coming down one of the slides into the pool, I hit my head on the bottom of the pool and my neck snapped. I fractured the sixth vertebra in my neck. At the time, I had no idea what happened.

I returned to Sao Paulo to train on Monday, as well as on Tuesday, all the while with a broken neck. On Tuesday, I called the coach and the physical trainer and told them that I couldn't bear the pain any longer. They sent me to see a doctor at the hospital where they took another x-ray. It was in this x-ray that the fracture in the sixth vertebra was shown. Everyone, including the doctors, told me I was very lucky that nothing more serious happened. They told me that I could have become paralyzed and lost my ability to walk and to play soccer. I believe it was not luck. I believe God was protecting me during that time from anything more serious.

Many people think that I became a Christian after the accident, but that is not true. My parents are Christians and they raised me with biblical values. The accident happened in October of 2000 while I was playing in the "base" position on the Sao Paulo junior team. Throughout November and December, I had to wear a cervical collar and could not play.

I began to play again in January of 2001, and after about 10 or 15 days, I was called to play for the Sao Paulo professional team. Because of this, I believe God had a purpose in that accident. It is something that happened just before I had the great blessing of starring as a professional in Sao Paulo and initiating my career as a professional soccer player.

As I said before, my parents always taught me the Bible and its values, and also about Jesus Christ and faith. I did not have a specific conversion experience, but little by little, I stopped simply hearing people talk about the Jesus my parents taught me [about], and there came a time when I wanted to live my own experiences with God. One of these experiences with God was when I was baptized at the age of 12. This was a very important step in my walk with Jesus and soon after many things began to happen in my life where I could experience God in a real way.

I need Jesus every day of my life. Jesus tells me in the Bible that without Him I can't do anything. I have the gift and capacity today to play soccer because God gave it to me. The day He wants me to do something else, I will do that something else and this is why I need Jesus in my life every day. I am successful in my financial life and in my professional life, but all this has come from God and is a gift of grace from Him for my life. All that I have, I thank Him for.

The difference Jesus makes in my life is that I know I will always have victory, I will always have joy, and I will always have success. This is independent of the situations I face or will face. This brings me great peace.

I usually tell the people who ask, that the Bible is like the user's manual that comes when you buy a product. It has everything we need in it. It makes me happy to read the Bible every day, to study it and to be in fellowship with God and learn more and more about Jesus.

I will win many matches and I will lose many matches, but I know that in all of them, God has a plan. This is why I try to understand the plan of God for me in each moment so that I can have peace during times of pressure.

Everyone wants to be a winner, but for me, the true meaning of winning is having Jesus in my life. It is a life of prayer, a life of intimacy and a lifelong friendship, knowing that God is our Father. I can say that I am a winner and I am victorious because Jesus lives in my life. No, I will never stop following Him.

Flashback: Roberto Carlos Banana Free Kick At the 1997 Tournoi de France

In advance of the February 9, 2011 friendly between Brazil and France, "Bringing Back the Beautiful Game" will return to the history of national competition between France and Brazil, starting in 1986 all the way through the World Cups of 1998 and 2006. Along the way, we will take a close look at players such as Socrates, Zico, Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane, four of the exemplars, par excellence, of the beautiful game. For now, however, we will begin with Roberto Carlos's celebrated, banana free kick that seemingly defied physics and the laws of gravity. Football has rarely witnessed a free kick with quite the degree of curve as this one.

Brazil ended up with a 1-1 draw to France and ultimately earned second place in the competition, finishing runners up to England. Even though Brazil fielded the "Ro Ro" strike partnership of Romario and Ronaldo that netted their share of remarkable goals, the tournament ultimately became famous for Roberto Carlos's 21st minute free kick at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon on June 3, 1997.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fluminense clinch Brazil Serie A title

Fluminense clinched Brazil's Serie A title with a 1-0 victory over Guarani as contenders Corinthians stumbled to a 1-1 draw against lowly Goias. In the final match of the championship, Cruzeiro scored a 2-1 victory against Palmeiras to leapfrog over Corinthians into second place. Fluminense went ahead thanks to a goal by Emerson in the 61st minute and managed to retain their lead by maintaining possession for the vast majority of the game. Dentinho equalized for Corinthians after his team fell behind to a Goias goal by Felipe, but the away team failed to produce the game winner they needed to stay in contention for the title. In any case, a victory for Flu was enough to guarantee them the title as Muricy Ramalho's team went into the final match with a one and two point lead over Corinthians and Cruzeiro respectively. Fluminense's victory put a damper on any possibility Corinthians would salvage the title in their centenary year, in what could be the last competitive season played by their flagship striker and global celebrity, Ronaldo. Fluminense's victory marks the first time they have won Brazil's Serie A title since 1984. Last year's championship winners Flamengo ended their disastrous season by avoiding relegation and taking 14th place out of 20 with a 0-0 draw against Santos in their final game of the season.

Final standings:

Fluminense: 71 points
Cruzeiro: 69 points
Corinthians: 68 points
Gremio: 63 points

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ronaldo of Brazil: The Retirement of the First Global Sports Hero of All Time

Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo announced his retirement from professional football on February 14, 2011, citing difficulties maintaining his body and hypothyroidism, a medical condition which made it difficult for him to maintain an optimal weight.

Where will Ronaldo find his nest after retiring from professional football? Questions such as these about Ronaldo’s future hover like a ghost around the Brazilian legend's decision to retire in the wake of harassment from Corinthians fans because of the club's February 2 exit from the Copa Libertadores. After retirement, Ronaldo’s Selecao teammates Romario and Bebeto found careers in coaching, club management and, most recently, politics. Correspondingly, 1994 World Cup winners Dunga and Jorginho went on to coach one of the most tactically aware and defensively robust Brazil sides of all time. Right winger Leonardo coached AC Milan with considerable success from 2009-2010 and has transformed Inter Milan radically since taking over as coach in late December 2010.

Ronaldo has said little about his post-retirement plans but one senses he is less likely to pursue a career in coaching and more inclined to contribute to football in an advisory capacity for club teams or as a commentator on the game. As a global symbol of peace, goodwill and human rights for the United Nations at various moments during his career, Ronaldo may well end up following Romario and Bebeto in furthering causes for justice and the well-being of children worldwide, whether in politics or the non-profit sector. With respect to football, Ronaldo has professed an interest in remaining involved with his former club Real Madrid in an advisory role, and one would expect that he will continue to maintain close ties to Corinthians in subsequent years. But in all this, the question about Ronaldo’s retirement and attendant plans engages the fate of one of the first truly transnational sports heroes of all time.

Ronaldo rapidly became a symbol of goodwill and sportsmanship to generations of football fans all over the world. In the mid-1990s, his goal scoring feats and slalom runs catalyzed a renaissance of interest in the game that coincided with its emerging popularity in the United States and Asia. And most importantly, Ronaldo became the first truly global sports hero that men and women all over the world admired, shared and loved, beginning with his sublime goal a game ratio at Barcelona and Inter Milan, to his heart wrenching struggles with knee injuries, back to the glory of his 2002 World Cup victory and two goals against Germany in the final. Pele was never truly a global hero because he played in a historical moment that was not wired in quite the same way as the world is today with Google, YouTube and soccer websites and discussion boards in almost every language. Maradona had few fans amongst English football supporters and his greatness was ultimately eclipsed by his decline into cocaine addiction and alcoholism. Romario paved the way for the concept of a global super-hero, but his cat-like prowess around the goal mouth paled in comparison to Ronaldo’s almost superhuman speed, strength, dribbling ability and power. Moreover, the peak years of Romario’s career coincided with the dawn of the consumer internet era as opposed to the conjunction of the peak of Ronaldo's fame with the lightning fast proliferation of internet technologies across the globe.

Add to all this the manner in which football enjoys a global popularity that trumps basketball, tennis and golf, it becomes easy to understand how Ronaldo crossed national, class, generational and gender boundaries more so than Bruce Lee, Michael Jordan, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. His fame ushered in the conditions of possibility for a transnational sports hero embraced by fans all over the entire globe. In terms of fame and global power as a cultural icon, only Michael Jackson and Madonna bear him comparison. While soccer historians would do well to begin cataloguing Ronaldo’s dizzying array of goals and records, cultural historians should take stock of the way in which Ronaldo elevated sport in general, and football in particular, to a global language with the power to galvanize audiences in all corners of the entire world. Messi stands on Ronaldo’s shoulders because his circulation in the world of contemporary popular culture derives from Ronaldo’s unprecedented, organic creation of the concept of a truly global sports hero for the very first time.

The above article features a post-February 14, 2011 update to the original December 4 posting.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kaka Poised for Real Madrid Return After Resuming Pitch Training

Things are suddenly looking bright for the Brazilian midfield after the uninspired play of Elias, Ramires and Lucas against Argentina in Doha. In parallel with Ganso's recovery from a left torn ACL injury, Ricardo Kaka appears to be steadily recuperating from a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery in August. Today, Real Madrid's website reported that Kaka had resumed training on the pitch and begun proprioception work, strength training and stamina training under the guidance of trainer Carlos Lalin. Proprioception work refers to the body's sixth sense for understanding how muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints communicate with one another. In the context of a sports injury, proprioception training gauges an athlete's sense of balance as well as its ability to sense movement and pain. Real reported that Kaka did not feel any discomfort during training and is expected to return to the pitch in January 2011. Whereas a flurry of media reports in October and November suggested that Kaka was entertaining the possibility of transferring from Real Madrid to AC Milan, Sao Paulo or Chelsea, the Brazilian playmaker's future under Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid appears set in stone given Barcelona's 5-0 thrashing of Real Madrid the season's first El Clasico at the Nou Camp. Real Madrid's midfield quartet of Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso struggled woefully against Barcelona's one touch passing and attacking game. Mesut Ozil faltered when denied space whereas Khedira chased the ball relentlessly but failed to obtain any significant possession that could be supplied to Alonso and subsequently to Cristiano Ronaldo and Benzema. Against Barcelona, Real's midfield sorely lacked the creativity, vision and experience of a playmaker and attacking midfielder such as Kaka, who--in form--is probably the only player on the planet who can provide an effective counter-weight to Pep Guardiola's midfield maestro Xavi. Moreover, Higuain's probable absence due to back problems in the upcoming months means that Real could benefit from Kaka's trademark ability to swoop forward from midfield and score goals. Kaka's ability to compensate for the failure of Real Madrid's midfield should be painfully apparent to a master tactician such as Mourinho, so fans of the sex symbol from Sao Paulo should look forward to seeing the 2007 Balloon d'or and FIFA World Player of the Year in the number 8 shirt behind Cristiano Ronaldo as early as February.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fluminense on verge of Brazil Serie A title

Fluminense stand on the brink of their first Brazil Serie A title since lifting the trophy in 1984 under the leadership of coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. In their penultimate game, Fluminense won 2-1 against Luiz Felipe Scolari's Palmeiras through goals by Carlinhos and Tarta. Palmeiras striker Dinei threatened Fluminense's title chances by scoring from a spectacular long range strike from the right flank that rocketed past goalkeeper Ricardo Berna's right hand in the 4th minute. But the league leaders quickly regained their composure and created a bevy of scoring opportunities by means of their quick build-ups through midfield and intelligent distribution to the flanks. Fullback Carlinhos equalized in the 19th minute through a long range, right footed strike from the left flank before Tarta sealed the match for Fluminense with a left footed strike from within the box in the 58th minute. Fluminense's come from behind victory underscored their championship level mettle through a glorious display of attacking, free flowing football characteristic of Brazilian domestic teams at their best.

Meanwhile, second placed Corinthians secured a 2-0 victory over Vasco da Gama through goals by Bruno Cesar and Danilo. Third placed Cruzeiro stayed in the title hunt with a 2-1 victory over Flamengo, who narrowly avoided relegation by securing 15th place in the league under the leadership of their most recent coach, Wanderlei Luxemburgo.

In the final round of competition, Fluminense play at home against relegated Guarani, while Corinthians travel to play Goias. A loss by Fluminense and a win or draw for Corinthians would be enough to hand the title to Corinthians in their centenary year. A loss for Fluminense to Guarani would be monumental though coach Muricy Ramalho assured his fans that, despite their relegated status, he expects Guarani to play as professionals in a highly competitive final match. Cruzeiro stand an outside chance of claiming the title in the event they win and Fluminense and Corinthians both lose.

Corinthians star striker Ronaldo looks set to miss the final match against Goias because of a right thigh injury sustained in their 1-1 draw against Vitoria on November 21.

Standings:

Fluminense: 68 points
Corinthians: 67 points
Cruzeiro: 66 points

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Santos midfielder Ganso starts running for the first time after ACL surgery

Three months after undergoing surgery for a torn, left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), Santos midfielder Paulo Henrique Chagas de Lima (Ganso) has started running and training in standing positions. Ganso's 10 minute run around a soccer pitch bodes well for a speedy and expeditious recovery. Santos physical therapist Avelino Buongermino indicated that Ganso may recover in time for the first round of the Copa Libertadores in March 2011, but added that he would be able to make a more intelligent prediction about Ganso's timeline for recovery following a December 28 examination of his knee, at which time he would decide whether to add the soccer ball to his training regimen. Ganso sustained the injury in an August 25 match against Gremio in a Brazil Serie A match. The Santos midfielder was critical to the club's successes in the early half of the season in winning the Paulista championship and the Copa Brasil. Paulo Henrique said he was ecstatic about being able to run again and is looking forward to seeing the fruits of his hard work continue to bear fruit in subsequent weeks.

Ganso's injury timeline:

August 25: Sustains torn ACL injury in Santos v. Gremio Brazil Serie A match
August 28: Successful cruciate ligament operation
November 27: Begins running again for the first time since surgery
December 28: Knee examination by Santos physiotherapist Avelino Buongermino
March 2011: Projected date of Ganso's return to competitive play

For more on Ganso, see:
Bringing Back the Beautiful Game: Player Profile: Paulo Henrique Ganso

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Effortlessness of Lionel Messi

He is the greatest football player since Kaka and Ronaldinho. At the tender age of 23, he has yet to make his mark in a World Cup for Argentina, but if form holds, he is destined to earn career achievement comparisons with Maradona, Brazilian ace Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Pele. He has already won the FIFA Player of Year Award and is trailblazing Barcelona's campaign for the 2010-2011 La Liga title against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo. His name is Lionel Messi and he is in the midst of redefining the meaning of footballing greatness.

In early adolescence, Messi struggled with a medical condition related to a growth deficiency that required nightly injections of a growth hormone. Unable to afford the treatment in Argentina, his family accepted an offer from Barcelona to pay for Messi's medical bills as part of his induction into Barca's youth team and moved from their home in Rosario, Argentina to Spain in 2000. Messi shone as a youth player for Barcelona and since then, has accompanied the team on its road to La Liga titles in 2004-2005, 2005-2006, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. He finished the 2009-2010 year with 34 La Liga goals in 35 appearances for Barcelona on their way to the title as he picked up awards for the Balloon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award in the same season. Messi shone at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 but failed to score, though he recently scored for the first time against arch-rivals Brazil with a brilliant injury time goal to sink Brazil and hand Mano Menezes his first loss since taking charge of the Brazilian national football team.

Fans and pundits compare him most frequently with Diego Maradona because of their prodigious dribbling skills, diminutive stature, low center of gravity and shared Argentine heritage. Maradona himself has called Messi his "successor" on more than one occasion, though one could be forgiven for wondering whether Maradona has reconciled himself to Messi's greatness given the former's inability to realize Messi's powers at the World Cup 2010 or even in South American World Cup qualifying. Regardless of whether there exists an unspoken rivalry or jealousy on Maradona's part about Lionel Messi, a closer look at the two players reveals a number of differences at the level of technique, skill and overall style.

Effortlessly, Messi glides past one defender and then another, weaving his way through defenses by means of absurdly quick changes of direction that leave defenders in the box stunned by the speed of his change of pace. Feigning a movement in one direction and then heading in another in a flash, he leaves defenders awestruck as he dashes by them on his way toward goal. His dribbling skills rank with Maradona, Garrincha, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho save for the naturalness of his movement, and the way he blows by players as if the field were a chess game where the pawns on the opposing side offer no resistance. And in all this, there is a seeming lack of exertion on Messi's part as he plots his path toward goal through a throng of defenders. Whereas Brazilian ace Ronaldo and Maradona muscled their way past defenders like bulls with speed and supreme ball control skills, Messi draws on his deep positional awareness to find his teammates and the ball and the back of the net. True to his look as a band groupie or a Harry Potter-like, contemplative nerd, his power is cerebral and based on a keen tactical awareness of the positions of his teammates and the opposition. And in keeping with his South American heritage, the other component of Messi's magic derives from his dribbling abilities and clinical finishing power. The ball stays glued to his laces until he unloads it onto his left foot and dispatches a shot with clinical precision that rarely misses the target. Simply put, Lionel Messi is the best finisher in the game today, playing at a league above even the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Didier Drogba and Luis Fabiano.

He scores 3 and 4 goals per match with a frequency rarely performed by strikers such as Romario, Ronaldo, Raul and Gabriel Batistuta, all of whom were accustomed to braces but far less frequently to hat-tricks and beyond. On March 10, 2007, Messi scored a hat-trick in the El Clasico match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. In 2009, he repeated the feat with a hat-trick against Atletico Madrid. On April 7, 2010, Messi single handedly destroyed Arsenal by scoring 4 goals in a 4-1 rout of the Gunners. The 2010-2011season has witnessed two Messi hat-tricks already, one against Sevilla in a 4-0 victory on August 21, 2010 and another against Almeira in an 8-0 Barcelona victory on November 20, 2010.

Messi's most touted goal so far was against Getafe on April 18, 2007, where he defeated five Getafe players plus the goalkeeper in a goal that drew widespread comparisons with Diego Maradona's second goal against England in the World Cup of 1986. But he has scored brilliant goals since then against more experienced and tactically savvy defenses such as those of Valencia, Zaragoza, Real Madrid, Arsenal and most recently, Brazil, that have ironically drawn less media attention than the goal against Getafe because of the sheer effortlessness of his accomplishment in putting the ball in the back of the net. Messi's effortlessness conceals his raw talent and uncanny positional awareness of how to navigate through mazes of defenders and score with comparative ease. Ironically, however, the world would do well to watch the spectacle of his career unfold with baited breath since—beneath his modesty, shyness and music groupie-like appearance—we are witnessing one of the greatest football players of all time soar toward the peak of his career. The next test of Messi's greatness will be how he handles Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo at this season's first El Clasico on November 29. Given how their flagship striker is in the hottest of form having scored in 9 straight Barcelona games, Barca fans could be forgiven for expecting Messi to shred Real Madrid's defense into tatters at the Nou Camp on Monday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Menezes, Batista, Messi and Ronaldinho Quotes on Argentina 1-Brazil 0

Mano Menezes, Ronaldinho, Victor, Sergio Batista and Lionel Messi had the following to say after Argentina's 1-0 victory against Brazil in an international friendly at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar on November 17, 2010.

Brazil

Mano Menezes: Coach

"We have to look at this result with serenity. We created several chances, the final result was not fair, but we have to learn from everything that happened."

"We played an even match with Argentina. We were closer to victory throughout the second half, but I think our team lacked experience near the end of the match. You can't allow a goal at a time like that."

"It was important to go through these four matches with an idea of the team's potential and of how it can keep improving.”

“Ronaldinho did well, taking responsibility for creating offensive moves. He was substituted because of his physical condition and not because of his performance. We brought him back to the Selecao at the right time”

“They weren’t hurting us, but Messi had reserved one extra move for Argentina.”

Ronaldinho

“He is the world’s best player, and unfortunately for us he found a gap and with his quality settled the match when it already looked like a draw,”

Victor

"We controlled the match, they barely had any chances to score. But in one play Messi made the difference."

Argentina

Sergio Batista: Coach

“We have the best player in the world and we made the most of that. I’m not going to discover now who he is because he is the world’s best player. But you can always hope for more from a player of Messi’s quality.”

Lionel Messi


"I had planned that before playing. I always looked for my chance."

"It's always important to win and this victory is even more important because it's against a direct rival and it gives us confidence.”

"My goal was important because it enabled us to beat Brazil."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fluminense overtake Corinthians in Brazil's Serie A with 2 rounds remaining

Fluminense regained the lead in Brazil's Serie A after pounding Sao Paulo 4-1 while Corinthians dropped points on the road to lowly Vitoria with a 1-1 draw marked by an injury to their flagship striker Ronaldo. Argentine playmaker Conca scored two goals and set up two more for Fluminense as they consolidated their position as favorites for the title with two rounds remaining. Fluminense defender Gum opened the scoring from a Conca corner in the 34th minute. Lucas equalized for Sao Paulo early in the second half but the last twenty minutes witnessed a torrent of goals initiated by Conca, the midfielder who is widely regarded as the best player in Brazil's Serie A this season. Conca put Fluminense back in the lead with a strike inside the box in the 74th minute and then former Lyon striker Fred poached Conca's long distance strike roughly five minutes later. Two minutes from time, Conca sealed an emphatic 4-1 victory for Fluminense with a left footed shot that positions Fluminense within striking range of their first Serie A title since 1984.

Corinthians, meanwhile, failed to capitalize on their draw to relegation battling Vitoria despite an early lead secured by a terrific pass from Ronaldo to midfielder Danilo, the goalscorer. But Vitoria equalized just before half time with a penalty due to a handball by Corinthians midfielder Ralf. Playing in his seventh consecutive match, Ronaldo was substituted in the interim between the two goals in the 30th minute for a right thigh muscle injury. His departure appeared to unsettle the league leaders as they failed to recover their rhythm and impose their game on the home team. Third placed Cruzeiro bounced back from last week's 1-0 loss to Corinthians with a 3-1 victory over Vasco da Gama from goals by Roger, Henrique and Edcarlos, all of which were assisted by corners or passes from Montillo. The result leaves Cruzeiro just one point behind Corinthians who, in turn, lag one point behind Fluminense with two matches remaining.

After 36 matches:

Fluminense: 65 points
Corinthians: 64 points
Cruzeiro: 63 points

Penultimate round: Sunday, November 28

Fluminense (away) v. Palmeiras
Cruzeiro (away) v. Flamengo
Corinthians (home) v. Vasco da Gama

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Argentina 1 - Brazil 0: Messi sinks Brazil in Doha Friendly

In a moment of injury time magic, FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi weaved through a tangle of Brazilian defenders and dispatched a left footed shot past goalkeeper Victor to seal a stunning, last minute 1-0 victory for Argentina against Brazil at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar today. Messi's goal ended a 5 match winless streak for the Albiceleste against Brazil and, amazingly enough, marked his first ever goal against the Selecao. The goal did justice to a match rife with high percentage scoring opportunities from both teams. Brazil pressed the attack in the first half with Dani Alves and Andre Santos roaring down both flanks, and Alves, in particular, threatening the Argentine goal. Brazilian midfielders Lucas, Ramires and Elias aggressively closed down the Argentine attack while playing without the ball and, conversely, distributed nicely to Neymar, Robinho and Ronaldinho when surging forward. Alves had the first real scoring opportunity of the match when a one-two pass with David Luiz enabled him to fire a rocket at the Argentine goal that hit the cross bar. Later in the half, a Neymar corner resulted in a ball falling to Ronaldinho in the box who, with his back to goal, opted for a back heel strike that goalkeeper Romero scooped up comfortably. Dinho also threatened the Argentine goal with a curling free kick off his right foot that Romero punched out of danger. As the half progressed, Argentina began to collect themselves and posed their own threats on goal with shots from Gonzalo Higuain saved by Victor in a match that was rapidly turning into a showcase for goalkeeping talent. Messi started to impose himself in the Argentine midfield and began one of his patented, Maradona-like runs based off passes from Zanetti and Banega that resulted in a long range, left footed shot that sailed over the crossbar by inches.

The second half continued the end to end football that fans expected from the South American clasico with Neymar and Robinho running at defenders and setting up dangerous free kick opportunities for Ronaldinho and Dani Alves. On the Argentine side of the equation, the substitution of Ezequiel Lavezzi for Higuain paid dividends as the Napoli striker created opportunities for Lionel Messi by commanding the right flank and distracting Andre Santos and David Luiz in the process. In the 56th minute, Lavezzi tore down the right flank and passed to Javier Pastore, whose shot appeared to have been blocked by the elbow of Thiago Silva, though no penalty was awarded. Meanwhile, Neymar continued to press the attack for Brazil and found himself repeatedly fouled and manhandled the closer he got to goal. In the 63rd minute, the Argentine defense hacked down Neymar in the box and the ball neatly fell to Robinho, but his shot went just wide.

Mano's flurry of substitutions with twenty minutes remaining--Douglas for Ronaldinho, Andre for Neymar and Jucilei for Ramires--seemed to suggest resignation to a 0-0 draw and an accompanying decision to provide his young players with much needed international experience. But Ramires's departure marked a deep, tactical mistake by Menezes because it freed Messi to find space in midfield that he had rarely enjoyed before. Deep into injury time, the Barcelona number 10 picked up the ball near center circle, burst forward, cut the ball onto his left foot and hit a lawnmower of a shot past Victor's left to seal a landmark victory for Argentina after their humiliating, 3-1 loss at home to Brazil in Rosario in World Cup qualifying in September 2009 and the team's recent 1-0 loss to Japan under coach Batista himself.

This was a humiliating defeat for Brazil as it exposed their lack of a single, world class, pure striker. Ronaldinho did his best to generate attacking opportunities alongside Corinthians star Elias but he lacked a powerful center forward such as Luis Fabiano with the strength to carve out that extra yard of space and put the ball in the back of the net. On the brighter side, Brazil's midfield is finally starting to click as the Lucas-Ramires partnership promises to bring much needed coherence to the team, although they still lack a creative playmaker in the form of Kaka, Elano or Paulo Henrique Ganso.

Despite not having as many high percentage shots on goal, Argentina clearly deserved the victory because Batista succeded where Maradona failed in freeing up Lionel Messi, the best striker in the world. Batista will have to worry about his defense, however, as he cannot rely on Romero to bail out the Albiceleste as often as he did today in Doha.

Overall, this was great end to end football and a tantalizing glimpse of two teams who will, in all likelihood, be the clear favorites for the World Cup in 2014, based as it will be on South American soil in Brazil. If Mano shores up his strikeforce with more mature incarnations of Neymar, Pato and Andre, Batista consolidates his defense, and Messi stays fit, the Selecao v. Albiceleste will probably be everyone's favored match-up for the World Cup final in 2014.

Team Captains:

Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina)
Robinho (Brazil)

Shirt Numbers:

Argentina

Messi: 10
Higuain: 9

Brazil

Neymar: 11
Ronaldinho: 10
Robinho: 9

For more on the history of Brazil v. Argentina, see:
Bringing Back the Beautiful Game: Brazil v. Argentina: A Brief World Cup History

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Corinthians regain lead from Fluminense as Ronaldo penalty sends Brazil Serie A battle down to the wire

Ronaldo scored a decisive penalty in the closing minutes of a hard fought match against Cruzeiro to give Corinthians a crucial victory as the battle for the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A goes down to the wire with three matches remaining. Since Ronaldo's return from injury, Corinthians have now won four matches and drawn two, a significant turnaround from a period when the Timao suffered a five match winless streak when their flagship striker, more commonly known as The Phenomenon, was sidelined because of injury. Ronaldo has now played six consecutive 90 minute matches and the Corinthians number 9 has vowed to play as much as possible in order to bring the title back to Corinthians in their centenary year. The match against Cruzeiro represented a hard fought victory for Corinthians as Cruzeiro squandered a number of high percentage chances on goal. Ronaldo himself had a number of chances including a blistering run from midfield that resulted in a left footed shot that sailed over the crossbar. The 89th minute penalty was awarded when Ronaldo suffered a blow from the back that left him face down in the box. Cruzeiro players protested the penalty vociferously and in the process, defender Gil earned a red card. Under pressure, Ronaldo maintained his tradition of successful penalty taking by sending the ball low into the corner to goalkeeper Fabio's left as he dove right.

Meanwhile, Fluminense drew 1-1 with Goias, and consequently relinquished the lead in Brazil's Serie A to Corinthians. Corinthians now have 63 points, Fluminense have 62 and Cruzeiro have 60, with 3 matches remaining. Highly familiar with titles going down to the wire, the experienced Ronaldo noted that, in the battle for Brazil's Serie A, "everything will be decided only on the last day."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Romario, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka & Bebeto: A Guide to Shirt Numbers for the Selecao

The number of a football player's shirt speaks volumes not only about his position on the pitch but also about the way in which he is perceived by his coach and the team more generally. In the case of the Brazilian national football team, the symbolism of numbers worn on the shirts of Selecao players is richer than in most other national teams given the Selecao's illustrious history, complete with 5 World Cup trophies, two runner up medals and the memory of Tele Santana's 1982 World Cup squad, widely regarded as the best football team never to win a championship. Ever since Pele wore the number 10 shirt for Brazil in 1970, the number 10 shirt has typically been given only to remarkable footballers who have the capacity to change a game. Zico inherited the number 10 shirt in 1982 and 1986 and, like Pele, occupied the position of a pure striker. In recent years, however, the number 10 shirt has shifted to creative, attacking midfielders that orchestrate attacks in addition to scoring goals. When Mario Zagallo gave the number 10 jersey to Allessandro Rivaldo at the 1998 World Cup in France, for example, there was much speculation in the Brazilian media as to whether Rivaldo could "bear the weight" of the number 10 jersey. As it turned out, Rivaldo lived up to and even exceeded expectations in the number 10 shirt both in 1998 and 2002, and since then, the number 10 shirt has gone, for the most part, either to Ronaldinho or Kaka.

The number 9 and 11 jerseys signify a pure striker in the vein of Ronaldo and Romario. Ronaldo famously wore the number 9 whereas Romario was most often seen in the number 11. 7 marks yet another well known number in the pantheon of venerable Brazilian shirt numbers as it is typically worn by another striker, and most likely a winger of a certain kind who lies deeper than a primary striker and plays a pivotal role in creating goal scoring opportunities alongside the attacking midfield. Bebeto wore the number 7 given his penchant for lying deep, behind Romario, and setting up his strike partner to score while concurrently dispatching scoring opportunities that came his way. Rivaldo also wore the number 7 jersey earlier in his career when playing alongside the famous "Ro Ro" combination of Romario and Ronaldo as a left sided winger. The final number of any real significance is 8, the shirt number worn by the great midfielder Socrates and, in select matches, by Ricardo Kaka, who wears the same jersey for Real Madrid. 8 seems to have fallen out of favor in the last ten years or so, but its symbolic association with Socrates has unforgettably marked its bearer as an embodiment of creativity, leadership and midfield brilliance.

The following list identifies attacking Brazilian players for the Selecao and the shirt number they typically wore in World Cup matches or qualifying rounds:

World Cup 2010

Robinho: 11
Kaka: 10
Luis Fabiano: 9
Elano: 7

World Cup 2006

Ronaldinho: 10
Ronaldo: 9
Kaka: 8
Adriano: 7
Roberto Carlos: 6

World Cup 2002

Ronaldinho: 11
Rivaldo: 10
Ronaldo: 9
Roberto Carlos: 6

World Cup 1998

Bebeto: 20
Rivaldo: 10
Ronaldo: 9

World Cup 1994

Romario: 11
Bebeto: 7

World Cup 1990

Muller: 15
Romario: 11
Careca; 9

World Cup 1986

Socrates: 18
Zico: 10
Careca: 9
Muller: 7

World Cup 1982

Falcao: 15
Eder: 11
Zico: 10
Serginho: 9
Socrates: 8
Junior: 6

World Cup 1970

Rivelino: 11
Pele: 10
Tostao: 9
Jairzinho: 7

Santos midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso is widely expected to take over the number 10 jersey in the coming years while Neymar may well inherit number 11, and Alexander Pato the number 9 shirt for Brazil.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Brazil v. Argentina: A Brief World Cup History

Brazil and Argentina have played in the World Cup in 1978, 1982 and 1990. 1978 featured a tense, goalless draw dubbed “The Battle of Rosario” that Argentina enjoyed en route to World Cup glory on home soil. Four years later, in Spain in 1982, Brazil defeated Argentina 3-1. Tele Santana’s Brazilian team considered Argentina their most formidable opponent en route to the trophy, knowing full well that the Albiceleste had brought a young player to Spain named Diego Maradona. But the match was far easier for Brazil than originally envisioned. Zico scored the first goal, Serginho the second and Junior the third before Argentina’s Diaz scored in the closing minutes. But eight years later, it was Argentina’s turn to claim victory at the World Cup with a 1-0 defeat of Brazil in Turin. Brazil dominated the first 80 minutes of the match, deploying dangerous shots on goal from Careca, Dunga and Alemao, in addition to commanding the lion’s share of possession. In the second half, Careca, Valdo and Alemao continued to press the attack on Goycochea’s goal, but to no avail. In the 80th minute, a moment of magic from Maradona sealed the victory for Argentina. Maradona ran through a throng of Brazilian defenders toward the right flank before providing a left diagonal through ball to Claudio Caniggia, who promptly beat goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel. The match subsequently became famous for the “holy water scandal” because Brazilian right back Branco claimed that he had been given a water bottle laced with tranquilizers during the game. Branco had been central to the marking of Maradona and, amidst his lethargy, Maradona was able to break free and dish the killer pass to Caniggia. Years later Maradona confessed the truth of Branco’s allegations on Argentina television, but Argentina coach Carlos Bilardo denied the incident completely.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Player Profile: Ronaldinho Gaucho

No player better defined the decade from 2000 to 2010 than Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, better known as Ronaldinho or Ronaldinho Gaucho. Dinho, as he is also called, began his career at Gremio before transferring to Paris Saint Germain in 2001. Despite a number of spectacular goals and performances for Paris Saint Germain, Ronaldinho burst onto the international stage most visibly in the 2002 World Cup for Brazil in Japan and Korea. Ronaldinho was the lesser known of the “3 Rs” attacking formation additionally constituted by Rivaldo and Ronaldo. Though playing third fiddle to Ronaldo and Rivaldo, Ronaldinho provided some decisive assists and goals to lead Brazil to World Cup victory in moments when they were struggling. In the round of 16 against Belgium, Brazil found themselves in deep trouble with the match scoreless after 65 minutes. Belgian players Marc Wilmots and Mbo Mpenza took shot after shot on goal, only to be denied by acrobatic saves from the Brazilian goalkeeper Marcos. In a moment of magic from the right flank, Dinho floated a mid-air pass using the outside of his right foot that Rivaldo chested down, turned and rifled into the back of the net. Similarly, in the quarterfinals against England, with Brazil trailing 1-0 due to a Michael Owen goal, Ronaldinho picked up the ball near center circle and charged at the English defense, dribbling past the English defender Ashley Cole as he dished off yet another crucial pass to Rivaldo that the Barcelona star dispatched with his golden left foot. Minutes into the second half, Ronaldinho struck again, this time with a sublime curling free kick into the back of the net from 35 meters after catching England goalkeeper David Seaman off his line.

At the club level, Dinho’s most productive years were at Barcelona from 2004 to 2006, where he led the team to the La Liga title in 2005 and 2006 and earned himself the FIFA World Player of the Year Award in consecutive years in the process. After leaving Barcelona in 2008, Ronaldinho has struggled to find his young form at AC Milan, though he has produced tantalizingly displays of his earlier form under coach Leonardo and, most recently, Massimiliano Allegri. Dinho scored a hat-trick against Sienna on January 17, 2010 and produced a scintillating display against Manchester United a month later with a goal and an assist in a performance rife with back heels, flicks and dazzling dribbling skills that mesmerized the Manchester United midfield and defense.

Ronaldinho plays with a child-like joy and wondrous sense of possibility every time he takes the pitch. As an attacking midfielder and left winger, Dinho typically plays deep and then surges forward, looking for his teammates or an opportunity on goal. Known more for his dribbling ability than, say, the explosive pace of Ronaldo or the direct, swooping attacks on goal by Kaka, Ronaldinho is best known for his ability to forge creative plays and scoring opportunities out of nothing by bending deep over the ball, luring in defenders and then darting by them in a flash or serving his team a creative pass down the center or to either flank. His career has also been marked by spectacular goals from free kicks and long range strikes from within the run of play, off both feet. Dinho set the standard for excellence in club and international football for over a decade in a manner that the sport has rarely seen. His recent recall to the Brazilian national team in a high profile friendly against Argentina speaks volumes of Mano Menezes’s regard for the 30 year old midfielder, and testifies to his enduring vitality and place in modern football.

Ronaldinho was named Player of the Decade by World Soccer magazine in December 2009.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Journey Home: Kaka Back to Sao Paulo or AC Milan?

Rumors continue to swirl about the career of Kaka, Brazilian international and attacking midfielder for Real Madrid. After undergoing knee surgery in early August, the former 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year and Balloon d'Or Winner has been linked with moves to Sao Paulo, AC Milan and Chelsea. Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho denies claims that the Los Blancos are ready to sell their signing from AC Milan in the January transfer window, but recent reports from Sao Paulo and AC Milan have fueled speculation that the Brazil number 10 may be leaving the Bernabeu in early 2011. Sao Paulo Vice President Carlos Augusto de Barros e Silva expressed hope that Kaka would join his former Brazil club on loan, but noted that the distance between Kaka's movement to Sao Paulo and his departure from Real Madrid remained significant. De Barros e Silva remarked that every Sao Paulo fan would be thrilled to witness the return of Kaka, who began his career at Sao Paulo before moving to AC Milan in 2003. Kaka spends time with Sao Paulo management when he returns to Brazil, and did so prior to World Cup 2010 in an attempt to recover from a groin injury. Part of Sao Paulo's attempt to lure Kaka back to Brazil features the proposition of bringing about a complete return to form for the Brazilian playmaker by means of their world class training facilities and personnel.

Meanwhile, AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani performed a 180 degree inversion of his earlier position that, under no circumstances would Kaka be able to return to the to the San Siro, saying "never say never" with respect to the prospect of the former Rossoneri star's return. Galliani, who was linked with the summer's acquisitions of Robinho and Ibrahimovic, has been rumored to be amenable to Ronaldinho's departure in favor of Kaka's return. And a recent report in Il Giorno claimed that Kaka had phoned Galliani, expressing regret about his move to Real Madrid and the urgency of his desire to return to the club that made him an international star. Aside from Sao Paulo, Kaka's former AC Milan boss, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancellotti, has expressed interest in signing Kaka, as have Manchester United and Internazionale.

Kaka's August 5 knee surgery appears to have gone well and the midfielder has begun intense physiotherapy at Real Madrid. The Brazilian playmaker has dismissed media rumors about his transfer, noting that his primary and only focus has been on recovery according to the regimen prescribed by his physicians, physiotherapists and coaching staff. Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho claimed that Kaka is "crucial" for the success of Los Blancos, though everyone knows "The Special One" can hardly be taken at his word.

Amidst all the rumors, it's anyone's guess as to where Kaka will land in January. Given his allegiance to the Rebirth in Christ Church, it would not be surprising if Kaka sought the guidance and mentorship characteristic of the church in his professional life by opting to journey home either to AC Milan or Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo would give the player a mild respite from the scrutiny of the press and allow him to focus on regaining his physical fitness and strength in a place that he calls home. AC Milan would allow Kaka to enjoy the friendship and professional understanding of his friend Robinho and a management team that fully believes in his demonstrated ability to shine at the San Siro. But Kaka's faith in Jesus also translates into a confidence about life's trajectory that gives him the conviction to believe that he can succeed anywhere, and overcome the adversity of his injuries on almost any terrain. Following his knee surgery, Kaka claimed that he would regain his place as the best footballer in the world. Given the strength of his convictions and history of overcoming hardships such as the teenage swimming pool accident that nearly terminated his career, one would be hard pressed to bet against his return to form as the best attacking midfielder in the world, whether at Real Madrid, AC Milan, Sao Paulo or elsewhere.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ronaldinho to Return to Brazil National Team for Argentina Friendly

Brazil coach Mano Menezes recalled Ronaldinho to the Brazil national team after an absence of 18 months for Brazil's November 17 friendly against Argentina in Doha, Qatar. While Mano's decision recognizes Ronaldinho's improvement of form at AC Milan under Leonardo and Massimiliano Allegri, his selection also highlights Brazil's need for an experienced midfielder given the absence of players such as Kaka and Ganso due to injury. In a surprise move, Mano’s selection omitted Carlos Eduardo, who currently plays for Russian champions Rubin Kazan. Eduardo had run the midfield for Brazil in the October friendlies against Iran and the Ukraine, but his omission in favor of Ronaldinho signifies Mano’s belief that a more creative midfielder will be required to unlock defensive formations featuring Argentine players such as Martin Demichelis, Nicolas Burdisso, Gabriel Heinze, Javier Mascherano and Angel di Maria. Ronaldinho's call-up to the Canarinha provides him with an opportunity to add to his 87 caps for the Brazil national team and 32 international goals. He last played for the Selecao in April 2009 in a World Cup qualifier against Peru. While Ronaldinho has enjoyed a return to form at the San Siro, the 30 year old attacking midfielder has yet to return to the peak of his form evinced at Barcelona from 2004 to 2006, during which time he brought the Bernabeu to its feet on November 19, 2005 in a 3-0 victory against Real Madrid after scoring two breathtaking goals.

Ronaldinho won the FIFA World Player Year of Award in 2004 and 2005 and defined a decade of creative football that sets him in a league apart from even the greatest modern players such as Brazilian ace Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Raul Gonzalez, Allessandro Del Piero, Jurgen Klinsmann and Roberto Carlos. Mano also called up Santos striker Neymar to the national team after disciplinary problems left him sidelined from the October friendlies against Iran and the Ukraine.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Victor (Gremio) Jeferson (Botafogo), Neto (Atletico-PR).

Defenders: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Rafael (Manchester United), Adriano Correa (Barcelona), Andre Santos (Fenerbahce), Thiago Silva (Milan), David Luiz (Benfica), Alex Costa (Chelsea), Rever (Atletico-MG).

Midfielders: Lucas (Liverpool), Ramires (Chelsea), Sandro (Tottenham), Jucilei (Corinthians), Douglas (Gremio), Philippe Coutinho (Inter), Ronaldinho (AC Milan), Elias (Corinthians).

Forwards: Robinho (AC Milan), Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), Andre (Dinamo Kiev), Neymar (Santos).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mano Menezes Quotes: A Selection

July 27, 2010

On Winning and the Beautiful Game


“There are several ways of winning and I respect all of them. I will try to choose the way that gives us the best chance of winning. If that can be done with the ‘beautiful game’ that everyone likes, it would be the best. We will try to get as close as possible to that.”

On Dunga and the 2014 World Cup

"Dunga's team was disciplined tactically and that was positive. That's what I want for Brazil, to be well-organised tactically. Because with the talented players that we have, we will always have the capacity to win."

"The World Cup in Brazil will make things harder in a way, but we also will have bigger support. We need to be ready to overcome the pressure and to be in position to win the title."

August 17, 2010

On Neymar’s Choice of Santos or Chelsea

"I might be the person who most wants them to stay in Brazil. In these cases I have a very similar opinion to Zagallo's. We still haven't found the formula for making our players stay longer here. But it is clear that I have to respect Neymar's interests. Thinking of Brazilian football, however, their staying would be beneficial.”

August 25, 2010

On Ronaldo

"With as much energy as he is giving now, Roanldo has the ability to play with the same ability and definition."

"In the beginning, he will run into hard times, but if his motivation increases, he will play very well."

October 9, 2010

On Brazil v. Iran

“The changes have come along well. We are developing new players. It means we have to play against good quality teams. With due respect to Iran and Ukraine, we have to look at the two games coming up against Argentina. It is important to play against different levels of teams. Tonight was a different level in a warm place. It was good for us to play against different levels and in different conditions.”

“Even if both teams are on different levels, tactically, Iran played really well. It was a good game. My expectations were less but I was happy with what I saw.”

“The responsibility is big. We have to give it back to the Brazilian fans and play the beautiful game again. The World Cup will be held in Brazil and we have to convince the fans. We have to give opportunities to new players, young players. We need to win games. Success is important. I have picked these young players and trust a lot in them and they are answering to the expectations. Brazil will always be Brazil. Spain have a different style of play and they played their style and won the World Cup. The main thing for us is to give it back to the fans."

October 13, 2010

On Robinho

"Robinho is mature now and, although not old, is one of the more experienced players. He is a joy and very important to us, therefore he is an example for any young players."

October 20, 2010

On Ronaldinho


"I think that I am going to recall Ronaldinho for the friendly match that we have to play against Argentina.He is adapting very well to his new position in his team. I saw him personally in the match that Milan defeated Chievo 3-0 and he played very well. In addition, I even saw him in a training session last Sunday, I spoke with him and I saw him very motivated for playing again for the Brazilian national team."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Robinho and Boateng Find Their Footing in Milan

Robinho and Kevin Prince Boateng are adapting well to the Rossoneri as demonstrated by AC Milan's 2-1 victory over Napoli on Monday. Robinho scored in his second consecutive league game by charging upfield, passing to Massimo Oddo on the right flank, receiving the pass back from Oddo and burying the ball in the back of the net with a left footed shot. After last Tuesday's debacle against Real Madrid, coach Massimiliano Allegri opted to play Kevin Prince Boateng in midfield as opposed to Clarence Seedorf and the move paid dividends. Boateng's consistent display of energy and passion added force to the Rossoneri midfield even though the young Ghanaian midfielder is still acclimating to football in Italy's Serie A. Robinho played behind Pato and Ibrahimovic as a result of a minor thigh injury that Ronaldinho had picked up during training. After Monday's victory, however, Allegri may well consider starting Robinho in favor of Ronaldinho more often given that Robinho is more likely to run at defenses and trek back when necessary, in comparison to his compatriot, who displays occasional flashes of brilliance on both wings but fails to consistently threaten on the attack. Robinho ran hard at the Napoli defense and could well have scored a second goal. Milan's victory against Napoli leaves them in second place behind Lazio and ahead of Inter. Allegri now has some serious thinking to do about how best to utilize his summer's acquisitions in order to have any chance of recovering from the 2-0 deficit against Real Madrid on November 3, in Milan. The Rossoneri now prepare to play Juventus on Saturday.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Flashback: The Magic of Ronaldo

Brazil 2-Germany 1. International Friendly. Gottlieb Daimler Stadium, Stuttgart, Germany. March 25, 1998.

Weeks before the first World Cup ever to be held in France, football superpowers Brazil and Germany squared off in a friendly at the Gottlieb Daimler Stadium in Stuttgart, Germany. Mario Zagallo fielded a star studded squad that epitomized yet another golden age in Brazilian football. Zagallo started Claudio Taffarel in goal, Cafu, Junior Baiano, Aldair, Roberto Carlos in defense, Dunga and Cesar Sampaio in central midfield, Denilson and Rivaldo as attacking midfielders, and Romario and Ronaldo near the mouth of goal. The veteran Brazil coach opted for a 4-2-2-2 formation given the ultra-attacking firepower at his disposal, with Bebeto on the bench and the up and coming prodigy, Denilson de Oliveira, wearing the number 10 jersey.

Berti Vogts's German team boasted their own share of household names including Jurgen Klinsmann, Andreas Moller, Oliver Bierhoff, Jurgen Kohler and Christian Ziege. The match against Germany marked one of Brazil’s final stops on their Nike Brazil World Tour of friendlies before France 1998, and the stadium was packed with fans anxious to see the home team clash with the boys in gold and blue despite near freezing temperatures. Fans all over the world, meanwhile, awaited with baited breath yet another rare glimpse of the "Ro Ro" strike partnership between Romario and Ronaldo, two of the most brilliant marksman in the history of football.

The game started scrappily at first. Both teams attacked down the center of the pitch, with direct end to end play and a go for goal attitude toward the game. The Germans didn’t hesitate to use the time honored strategy of fouling the Brazilians whenever they started to break in midfield. Dietmar Hamann repeatedly stopped Denilson in his tracks as he attempted to burst down the left side and Jurgen Kohler confirmed his reputation as one of the best man markers in Europe by shadowing Ronaldo deep into the center circle and fouling the 1996 and 1997 World Player of the year precisely as he received the ball and turned and darted toward the German goal. Klinsmann, Bierhoff and Moller threatened on the counter-attack and, on the whole, the Germans did a fantastic job of containing some highly skillful opponents by allowing Romario and Ronaldo only a handful of scant touches on the ball.

Against the run of play, Cesar Sampaio scored on a header from a corner kick in the 27th minute with what he later called the “shoulder of God”. But from here on, the rough play continued even though Brazil started to string together more passes as Ronaldo, Romario, Rivaldo and Denilson began to collectively swarm towards goal. Minutes before the half time whistle, Jurgen Kohler committed a studs up foul on Cafu and promptly earned a red card from referee David Elleray. Kohler’s ejection appeared to make it curtains for Germany, trailing 1-0 and down a man against the best ball possession team in the world. But Brazil captain Dunga made matters more interesting when he correspondingly received a red card for a late challenge on Ulf Kirsten. Within ten minutes of Dunga’s ejection, Germany displayed their hallowed tradition of coming from behind as Ulf Kirsten toe poked an equalizer in the 65th minute following some lax Brazilian defending.

Now, it was 10 versus 10 and anyone’s game. Germany pressed forward as the home team, but in the game’s dying minutes, Ronaldo’s magic sealed the game for Brazil. Roberto Carlos picked up Moller’s misplaced pass and burst down the left flank. Seeing the German team caught up field, he delivered a magnificent diagonal through ball to Ronaldo who had retreated to his team’s center circle arc and followed every inch of Moller’s misplaced play. Like a sprinter out of the blocks, Ronaldo exploded forward, eyeing the ball like a hawk, out-muscling a pair of defenders and using his speed and balance to power himself into the box. The Brazilian ace sidestepped goalkeeper Andreas Koepke and tucked the ball into the back of the net with his characteristic composure in front of goal. After appearing invisible for much of the game, Ronaldo finally displayed his trademark explosive pace and ability to power through defenses. His goal marked an extraordinary finish to an otherwise scrappy but hard fought game marked by 2 red cards and 6 yellows, with both Brazil and Germany anxious to send some messages to the global football community prior to France 1998.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Neymar's Uniqueness

He has a lanky build and spiky hair. At first glance, one might mistake him for a playground player with pace and the chutzpah to take shots on goal. He occasionally throws tantrums on the field that testify to the immaturity of an 18 year old boy. But this same petulant youth has been compared with Pele and Robinho and hailed as one of the brightest stars in the emerging generation of Brazilian football. His name is Neymar da Silva Santos Junior and he wears either the number 11 or 7 shirt for the Brazilian club Santos.

Although Neymar has scored 10 goals for Santos in Brazil's Serie A this season so far, and 10 in the preceding season as a whole, his international fame and attention from clubs such as Chelsea and Juventus have rested less on the raw statistics of his goals per game, and more on his unique style of play. For one, there is a boundless energy and exuberance about his movement on the pitch. He plays with the youthful energy of a teenager, bursting forward on the left and right wings and running at the center of defenses as well. The Brazilian press have compared him most frequently to Robinho because of their shared propensity to dribble and cut inward from the flanks without fear of swarms of defenders.

In a style reminiscent of his compatriot Ronaldo, Neymar roams all over the pitch and returns deep into midfield in order to run at defenses. But unlike Ronaldo, he brushes by defenders by relying almost exclusively on an exquisite sense of balance and ball control in contrast to Ronaldo's combination of power, strength and skill. Drawing throngs of defenders in his wake, he solicits the foul, scores from the penalty spot or orchestrates the ensuing free kick and instinctively locates the right place in the box for the killer header or deflection or shot on goal. More often than not, he carves his way out of a thicket of defenders by feigning a move right and then darting left, or employing a similar set of guileful tricks to fool defenders.

Like Ronaldo, Neymar shoots off both feet. Like Ronaldo, he treks back deep into midfield. Like Romario, his balance and goal scoring precision around the box are virtually unparalleled in the modern game. Like Rivaldo, he takes penalties with confidence and success. Like Kaka, he has a sixth sense for the placement of his team mates on the pitch at all moments. But in the final analysis, he is just Neymar, the lanky Santos striker who finds the back of the net from all corners of the pitch and applies himself to his trade with a limitless energy and adolescent disrespect for the positioning and rigidity of the modern game.

In recent months he has scored for Santos in Brazil's Serie A against Atletico Mineiro, Gremio, Avai, Corinthians, Cruzeiro, Internacional and Sao Paulo. And he scored Brazil's opening goal in their friendly against the USA on August 10, 2010 in New Jersey. Nevertheless, Selecao coach Mano Menezes opted to drop Neymar from Brazil's friendlies against Iran and the Ukraine because of his incidents of indiscipline at Santos. At the moment, it's anyone's guess as to whether the Santos sensation will be included in the Brazil roster for the November friendly against Argentina. As every coach knows, brilliance and indiscipline are often coextensive traits that take time for a gifted young athlete to juggle and balance. The question now on everyone's mind is whether Mano and Santos can enable Neymar's talent to blossom to reach its fullest potential and become a complete player that bears no comparison to Robinho, Pele, Ronaldo or Romario, but is just Neymar, the aggressive forward whose creativity marks the fullest embodiment of the beautiful game since Ronaldinho, Diego Maradona and Socrates.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

AC Milan's Attacking Quartet Begins to Fire

AC Milan's attacking quartet of Ibrahimovic, Ronaldinho, Pato and Robinho are starting to make their mark on Serie A as evinced by their 3-1 victory over Chievo on Saturday. Ibrahimovic set up two goals for Pato and Robinho scored the third as the Rossoneri took over the lead of Serie A with 14 points from 7 games. The in form Pato volleyed home a cross from Ibrahimovic in the 18th minute. Twelve minutes later, Pato received a magnificently disguised pass from an Ibrahimovic free kick which he dispatched with trademark clinical precision for a 2-0 lead. What had looked like an easy three points for Massimiliano Allegri's team became a mighty struggle after Ibrahimovic scored an own goal off a Chievo corner kick deflection in the 70th minute. Chievo continued to attack in search of a point as Milan stayed back and defended their lead on the counter-attack. But deep into injury time, Ronaldinho found Robinho via a through ball from the right flank that he held until his compatriot had timed his run to perfection. Robinho calmly sidestepped Chievo goalkeeper Sorrentino and then buried the ball in the far right corner from a narrow angle as Chievo defenders converged on the goal mouth. AC Milan's 3-1 victory sets the stage for a mouthwatering Champions League clash with Real Madrid on Tuesday.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Brazil 1982: 11 World Cup Goals Featuring Zico, Socrates and Falcao

The video below features a compilation of goals from Tele Santana's Brazil World Cup team of 1982, the most talented team to never win a trophy in the history of football. The footage should give the viewer chills when compared with the rigidity of modern football at the club level in Europe. Brazil 1982 didn't play football; they celebrated football. Zico, Socrates, Serginho, Eder, Junior and company burst forward in waves and displayed an uncanny awareness of each other via back heels, side heels, bicycle kicks, chest traps, flicks, one twos, and intuitive passing into open spaces. Yet despite their marvelous teamwork, Santana's players were not afraid to go for goal from long range and display their individual skill by sending some sublime rockets into the back of the net as evinced, for example, by Socrates's goal against the Soviet Union in goal 2 of this collection.

Today, in almost any discussion of the national team, someone inevitably mentions Pele and the Brazil team of 1970. But seeing these goals, fans of the Selecao would do well to return to 1982 and first understand the uniqueness of Tele Santana's team. Captained by Socrates, Brazil's 1982 World Cup team scored 15 goals in 5 matches. The goals in the video below represent the 11 most sublime goals from the most artful team in the history of football.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Alves and Pato Seal Brazil's Victory Over the Ukraine

Brazil defeated the Ukraine 2-0 today in an international friendly that handed coach Mano Menezes an unbeatean 3-0 record and significant momentum going into November's clash against arch-rivals Argentina. For the second straight game, Dani Alves and Alexander Pato scored for Brazil with clinical finishing in a match largely played in Ukraine's half of the field. As promised, Mano opted to play 2 strikers instead of the usual 3 by adding an additional layer to midfield in the form of Elias, behind Carlos Eduardo. The new formation gave Carlos Eduardo more room to attack and support strikers Robinho and Pato. Ukraine sorely missed striker Andriy Shevchenko, who picked up an injury in Friday's 2-2 draw against Canada.

Dani Alves led the attack in the opening half with a shot on goal from long range followed by a free kick that mimicked the position from which he scored against Iran. The free kick narrowly missed the top right corner but the Barcelona defender kept coming forward, deftly combining with Robinho in the 9th minute only to scoop the ball over the bar. But Alves was not to be denied in the 25th minute as Robinho found the right full back near the net with an exquisite, long curling cross from the left flank that Alves volleyed into the back of the net to give Brazil a 1-0 lead. Brazil sealed the victory in the 63rd minute with a pacy attack down the right flank led by Carlos Eduardo. Eduardo crossed to Pato who turned and scored to give Brazil a 2-0 lead.

Brazil continued their dominance of possession in the second half with chances from Carlos Eduardo, Alves and Nilmar missing by inches. Mano, meanwhile, decided to substitute Carlos Eduardo, Ramires, Pato, Robinho and Elias with Giuliano, Sandro, Nilmar, Andre and Wesley respectively in an effort to give his young squad the feel of the yellow jersey that, as the legend goes, bears a tremendous amount of weight.

Overall, this was yet another great result for Mano and his young squad who are starting to gel in the space of just three friendly internationals and one dedicated training camp in Spain. The former Corinthians coach has captured the respect of his players and instilled an ethos marked by hard work and creativity on the pitch. Robinho is settling into his position as captain while Dani Alves's performances against Iran and Ukraine have injected new life into the debate over whether he or compatriot Maicon deserves the distinction of the best right back in the world. Finally, Carlos Eduardo has taken over the midfield and displayed the depth of Mano's Brazilian squad who have recently played without Ganso, Kaka, Elano or Ronaldinho in an attacking midfield position.

The Selecao will make their next stop in Doha, Qatar on November 17, where Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi, Javier Mascheroni and the rest of Sergio Batista's stars will be eager to make up for their October 8 1-0 loss to Alberto Zaccheroni's Japan in Saitama.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Brazil Defeats Iran 3-0: Samba Stars Shine in Abu Dhabi

Brazil defeated Iran 3-0 today in an international friendly at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi in the first soccer match-up between the two nations. Goals from Dani Alves, Alexander Pato and Nilmar secured the victory for the Selecao and handed debutante coach Mano Menezes his second consecutive victory at the helm of the Brazilian national football team. Iran striker Mohammad Gholami appeared to open the scoring in the fifth minute but his goal was disallowed for a foul. Nine minutes later, Alexander Pato's sprint toward goal drew a foul that earned Brazil a direct free kick on goal 35 yards from the net. Dani Alves opened the scoring with a spectacular free kick, curling the ball into the upper left corner of the net with a wicked swerving ball that gave goalkeeper Seyed Mahdi Rahmati absolutely no chance. Minutes later, Robinho and Pato managed to collectively strike the post and shoot wide after some nifty combination work imposed pressure on the Iranian defense that should have doubled Brazil's lead by the 20th minute. Iran's Javad Nekounam had a shot cleared off the goal line by Ramires in the 46th minute but from then on, Brazil began to dominate play and impose their possession game on their less experienced opponents. Pato finally found the back of the net in the 69th minute after surging through the center of the defense in trademark fashion and burying the ball in the center of the roof of the net with clinical precision and power. Substitute Nilmar threatened goalkeeper Rahmati multiple times in the remaining 10 minutes of the game until a pass from Andre Santos on the left wing found the Villareal striker lurking at the right corner with perfect timing and balance to direct the ball into the top left corner for a well deserved 3-0 Brazil victory.

Overall, this was a great result for Mano, who played Carlos Eduardo in the attacking midfield position behind Robinho, Pato and Philippe Coutinho. We saw Alexander Pato surge forward from deep positions and assert his authority as the lone, pure striker in dramatic fashion that recalled the brilliance of his compatriot Ronaldo in his days at Barcelona. The match also marked the ascension of Dani Alves to the free kick throne formerly held by Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. The Barcelona star's sublime 14th minute free kick focused the Brazilians after some scrappy play in the opening few minutes of the game and gave the Selecao the boost they needed to carve out a victory in the sweltering Abu Dhabi heat.