World Cup Diary / No Laughing Matter for Boys From Brazil

It all started so well for Brazil. But then the national anthem ended and the soccer began.

AFP

The one thing nobody expected Tuesday was a 0-0 tie between Brazil and Mexico. For starters, this World Cup has been relatively generous sharing the goals around. And second, Brazil had not played in a 0-0 at the World Cup since 1958.

The good news for Brazil is that they went on to win that tournament in Sweden. The bad news is their current side is not so great. The only convincing thing they’ve done so far is blast out the national anthem with pride and no few decibels (just look at David Luiz the next time they line up and start singing “The placid banks of the Ipiranga river heard…”).

We always used to understand why Brazil struggled to find great goalkeepers (who’d want to go between the posts when everyone else is playing the beautiful game?), but who knew forwards were in such short supply? Yes, there’s the individual brilliance of Neymar, but Fred? Hulk? Jo? They’ve really got to find someone with more than one syllable to their name.

Hulk was injured last night, although we’ve never been able to take him seriously since Manchester City fans serenaded him with the chant “You’re not incredible” a few seasons ago. Fred and Jo, meanwhile, sound like a comedy double act who might have played the Borscht Belt in the 1950s. They’re still good for a few laughs, but these are not the quality forwards Brazil is looking for (try reading that without Alec Guinness’ voice getting into your head.)

Brazil should still qualify for the knockout stage, though, while Tuesday’s sturdy opponent, Mexico, will need to avoid defeat against Croatia to proceed.

We have now seen all 32 sides in the tournament, with the final four debuting Tuesday. None looked particularly convincing (although they all looked better than the silver-haired Dani Alves, who cleary dyed his hair to try and look more like Yair Lapid – it worked.)!

Belgium may be the fifth-favorites to win the trophy, but they struggled against Algeria. The North Africans actually scored their first goal at a World Cup tournament since 1986 (and over 500 minutes of trying). Naturally, given this goal-scoring drought, it came from the penalty spot, but they weren’t able to hold on.

Instead of being overcome with pleasure that his side had finally managed to score a goal, Algerian coach Vahid Halilhodzic was painfully blunt afterward: “I would have liked to have a couple of tougher and more resilient players to resist their attacks, but I don’t have much of a choice.” Way to go, coach!

Russia coach Fabio Capello may have shared those sentiments after his side’s disappointing 1-1 tie with South Korea. Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev let the feeblest of shots loop into the net, before the Russians deservedly equalized 15 minutes from time.

Russia is the only side at the World Cup to select all its players from its own domestic league (England almost matched it, but has Celtic stopper Fraser Forster warming the bench), but they’re going to have to play a lot better if they’re to advance. Then again, some would argue that President Putin’s Russia has already done more than enough advancing this year.

Spain has a do-or-die clash against Chile this evening, but we’re already looking ahead to Thursday night’s clash between England and Uruguay. The gallows humor has already started in the U.K.: “What do you call 22 men gathered around a TV set watching the World Cup final? The England squad.” It’s even funnier the way Fred and Jo tell it.

Wednesday’s games:

Group A:

Croatia vs. Cameroon, 1 A.M.

Group B:

Netherlands vs. Australia, 7 P.M.

Spain vs. Chile, 10 P.M.