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September 14, 2000
Brazil beats Slovakia 3-1The Rediff Team
In what has to be the blue riband game of the day, Brazil turned out against Slovakia.
The four-time World champions, seeking their first Olympic goal, have opted for a young team, leaving out the likes of Rivaldo, Romario, Juninho, and Edmundo and banking on the rising stars Alex, Ronaldinho and Geovanni.
Slovakia have no names to highlight, but they've done something Brazil never has -- to wit, a gold medal in Olympic competition, in Moscow in 1980.
For Indian readers, a point of interest is in Komaleeswaran, one of two linesmen for the game refereed by Australian Simon Micallef.
Brazil started off in lacklustre fashion, idly toying with the ball, opting for little individual runs and, during the early stages, showing little signs of cohesion in their attack and midfield play. The Slovaks in fact looked considerably better organised in defence and midfield, without however being able to translate that into viable tries on goal.
The samba drums kicked into gear -- not celebratory, as is the case when Brazil is on song, but seemingly a touch irritated by the lackadaisical play of their stars. The drums, though, turned silent when Slovakia scored against the run of play -- Jan Slahor came steaming down the left flank, wiggled past Baiano and Bilica, then squared for Porazik to thump into the net past the diving Helton.
Seemingly stunned by the swift strike, Brazil eased its game up a notch and barely two minutes later, restored parity with effortless ease. Ronaldinho got the ball outside the box, flicked through nicely and Edu tucked it away with an inch-perfect left foot strike.
From there on, Brazil began to dominate, in both territory and possession, ruling the midfield and racing rings around the Slovakian defence. Slovakia for its part seemed intent on tight defence, trusting to breakaway moves to create opportunities to score. One such Michal Pancik testing Helton with a fierce volley that stretched the Brazilian goalie.
If Slovakia were businesslike, then Brazil was soon finding its arrogant mein. Edu, electric in midfield, produced one of those moments that you see only in Brazilian soccer, with an arrogant flick while on the full run, to put Alex through. Though he got the ball at a near-impossible angle, Alex still had the skill to control and shoot, forcing Contofalsky under the Slovakian bar to come up with a magnificient save. No goal, but reason enough for the samba drums to escalate in rhythm.
With the rhythm established, Ronaldinho began dancing, jiving along the left flank, forcing Lerant into a rough tackle. The ball rolled out for a corner, and Contofalsky continued to earn his pay as he leapt high to punch the ball clear. Kisel tried to break with a run, but Paulo in the Brazilian defence allowed him to come on before neatly dispossessing him inside the Brazilian box.
Just ahead of the lemon break, the game got a touch rough with Krsko fouling Geovanni heavily near the halfway line. Almost immediately thereafter, it was Alvaro standing still for a yellow card after a needless foul on Slahor. Ronaldinho, well after the whistle signalling the foul had been blown, slammed the ball into Krsko, perhaps in retaliation for the earlier foul on his colleague. A bit of a melle resulted, and the Australian referee strangely blew the whistle for half-time.
The second half followed on from the first, with patchy football marred by poor refereeing. With the Brazilians seemingly finding much of their rhythm, Slovakia's play got increasingly rougher, and the referee seemed increasingly to be everywhere except where the foul was happening.
Ronaldino looked increasingly dangerous as the Slovaks played the offside trap to him. The Slovak focus on Ronaldino, though, left space for Aurelio, Edu, Alex and company to run riot, and with every passing moment the Slovak defence showed signs of cracking under the strain.
Cisovsky, who had already collected a yellow, was lucky to find the referee's blind spot with a rough tackle on Ronaldino, but almost immediately thereafter, an Aurelio-Edu 1-2 saw the former's angled shot deflect off a Slovakian defender and into the goal, past a helpless Contofalsky. Lucky, but then, the Brazilians had till that point been unlucky enough times to be checked unfairly in what looked like dangerous moves.
Ronaldinho then combined with skipper Alex in a bit of magical play, before Alex's thundering finish was well saved by Contofalsky, doing overtime under the Slovakian bar.
Increasingly, the Brazilian defence developed a rock-solid air, while Slovakia seemed content to just belt the ball away into the midfield and wait for the next attack. Slahor seemed the only Slovak player capable of threatening Brazil, but Alvaro did a fine job of marking him closely.
With Brazil finding its vaunted rhythm, Slovakia's game fell apart at the seams and despite the seeming closeness of the scoreline, the second half showed a complete dominantion by the four-time World Champions.
Towards close, Rennes striker Lucas came on for Ronaldinho, while Miroslav Barcik took over from Michal Pancik for the Slovaks. Geovanni went off after a bit, making way for Mozart while Roger came on for Edu -- signs that Brazilian coach Luxemborgo was using this portion of the game to give some of his other players a feel for the ball.
With the game wrapped up and in no mood to risk injury against the tackle-happy Slovakians, the Brazilians took to dancing the ball around in midfield, showing ball skills rather than making any real push to increase the scoreline.
With the game moving into injury time, Brazil woke briefly to make it 3-1, Mozart slipping behind the Slovakian defence to snap the ball across in a perfect setup, leaving skipper Alex the easiest of finishes to execute.
A 3-1 scoreline after going down 1-0 early, and evident signs that the Brazilian young stars have the skill to make up for the absence of the superstars, should leave coach Luxemborgo sighing with relief at the end of the side's first outing.
Their game was not exactly airtight, but the forward line looks very potent while the midfield has a busy look to it with Edu, Alex and Aurelio combining very nicely.
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