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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.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Brazil v. France: A Brief World Cup History

France and Brazil have played four times in the World Cup, namely, in 1958, 1986, 1998 and 2006. In 1958, Brazil encountered France in the quarterfinals in Sweden en route to the championship. Brazil crushed Just Fontaine's team 5-2 thanks to goals by Didi, Vava and a hat-trick by the 17 year old Pele. But since the 1958 victory in Sweden, Brazil has lost to France at the World Cup on three successive occasions. In 1986, Brazil drew France in the quarterfinals once again, this time in Guadalajara, Mexico. France boasted a star studded squad featuring Michel Platini, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Manuel Amoros. Brazil, meanwhile, featured a host of world renowned players such as 1982 World Cup stars Socrates, Zico and Junior, in addition to a crop of new faces in the form of Branco, Alemao, Muller and Careca. In the first half, Brazil flourished in the sweltering 45 degree Mexico heat. Right back Josimar found Muller, who played a give and go with Junior who in turn passed to Careca across the face of goal. The unmarked Careca emphatically buried the ball in the roof of the net to give Brazil a 1-0 lead. Later in the half, Muller hit the post as the South Americans continued their onslaught on the French goal from the left, right and center. Socrates orchestrated a bevy of Brazilian attacks and received back-up in midfield from Elzo and Alemao as he ventured forward. But in the 41st minute, against the run of play, France received the lucky break that enabled them to draw level. Michel Platini tapped in a cross from the right flank by Rocheateau, whose ball across the face of goal was fumbled by Carlos, the Brazilian goalkeeper. Nearly invisible for 40 minutes, Platini emerged out of the blue to give France the equalizer just minutes before half time.

The second half continued in the same attacking vein from both teams. Tele Santana substituted Zico for Muller in the 72nd minute, and within minutes, the Brazilian number 10, also known as the white Pele, had set Branco free on goal. French goalkeeper Bats brought down Branco giving Brazil a penalty. Barely warmed up, Zico stepped up to the penalty spot and missed, giving France another leash of life on a game that was rapidly turning into one of the most entertaining, attacking displays of football in recent memory. The match went to extra time and penalty kicks.

Socrates missed the first penalty for Brazil. Yannick Stopyra scored for France. Alemao scored, as did Amoros for France. The score was now 2-1 France. Zico and Bruno Bellone scored for Brazil and France respectively. It was now 3-2 France. Branco made it 3-3. And then, Michel Platini spooned his kick over the cross-bar. Julio Cesar went for a spectacular kick that was saved by French goalkeeper Bats. And finally, France's Luis Fernandez gave France a thrilling 4-3 victory.

The next time Brazil and France met was in the World Cup final at the Stade de France in 1998 in a dream match-up between the defending champions and the host nation. France had failed to impress in the matches leading up to the final and their strikers had, for the most part, failed to find the back of the net. Brazil, on the other hand, progressively improved as the tournament unfolded and had just come off a thrilling victory over the Netherlands on penalty kicks. Ronaldo finally seemed to find the spaces for which he had been nicknamed "The Phenomenon" in Europe. Meanwhile, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Cafu collectively started to emerge as a formidable strikeforce to supplement the experience and positional awareness of striker Bebeto. But there was something different about the Brazil team that stepped onto the Stade de France in the final on July 12, 1998. Ronaldo appeared sedated and off his game. Correspondingly, the entire Brazilian team lacked the rhythm and concentration displayed in their preceding matches. The game prominently featured a match-up between the two number 10 shirts in the form of Rivaldo for Brazil and Zinedine Zidane for France. Like the rest of the Selecao, Rivaldo struggled to impose himself and conversely, Zidane roamed all over the pitch as he dictated play for the French in midfield and attack, dribbling through the Brazilian midfield, organizing triangular passing formations and ensuring that the full backs Lizarazu and Thuram had the freedom to contain the marauding Brazilian fullbacks Cafu and Roberto Carlos. Zidane scored on headers from two corner kicks in the 27th minute and the 46th minute respectively, effectively sinking Brazil before the end of the first half. In the second half, Mario Zagallo brought on Denilson Oliveira and Edmundo "The Animal" but all to no avail as Brazil's possession advantage failed to translate into goals. Emmanuel Petit put the icing on the cake for the French in a counter-attacking play that sealed the score at 3-0 in what amounted to a devastating loss for Brazil. Rumors gradually spread that Ronaldo had been seen at a French hospital minutes before the match for an ankle injury, or that he had suffered a seizure or set of convulsions. To this day, no one knows the truth of what happened to Ronaldo and the Brazilian team, other than that they looked like the ghost of the team that had defeated Morocco, Chile, Denmark and the Netherlands en route to the final.

In 2006, France defeated Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals thanks to another inspiring performance by Zidane and disciplined French marking of the Brazilian fullbacks. Brazil's "fab four" of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano failed to trouble the French defense. Zidane, on the other hand, took control of the game for France and dominated midfield play even more so than in 1998. In the 57th minute, Zidane swept a curling free kick to Thierry Henry who volleyed the ball into the top of the net to give France the one goal they needed to launch into the semi-finals.

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