By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The city fell into quiet shock on Friday, July 2nd, as the much-fancied Brazil side had their dreams of a sixth World Cup title dashed by a well-organized and at times fortunate Holland. Having looked every bit the tournament winners in the opening stages and scoring an early goal their key men disappeared in the second half, and Felipe Melo was sent off for an unnecessary stamp as Holland scored twice from set-pieces to win.
It could all have been so different for the samba boys who dominated proceedings for long portions of the first half. After just ten minutes of pressure Felipe Melo, later to turn villain of the piece, produced a wonderful pass that sliced open the unwitting Dutch defense and Robinho ran on to find himself unchallenged and finished coolly first time.
After that they took control, but failed to capitalize on their possession and though Kaka twice went close Holland began to gain composure and at half time the match looked considerably more balanced.
Shortly after the break the game was decisively swung by a defensive mix up that saw a free kick from Sneijder headed into his own net by Felipe Melo as goalkeeper César – who commanded his goal so well up until then – failed to punch the ball clear. Visibly shaken, Brazil never really got back into the game.
On 68 minutes a second set piece won the orange men the game. Kuyt flicked on another free kick and this time Sneijder was unmarked – again with Melo the culprit – to head home from six yards out and send their legion of fans into wild celebration. At the same time an eerie silence descended over Rio, punctuated only by the occasional optimistic firework.
From then on Brazil were chasing a game they had so easily controlled. When Melo brought down Robben for the umpteenth time he followed it up with a stamp to the thigh that left the referee with no other choice but to send him off, effectively ending Brazil’s hopes of a fightback.
As they pushed forward and time ran out, two half-chances to square the tie went begging, and then Holland inexplicably failed to make it three when Sneijder broke through with not a defender in sight. As the final whistle sounded and Robben et al celebrated, the Brazilian players looked stunned.
Immediately afterward, goalkeeper César was brave enough to face the O Globo television cameras and just held back the tears long enough to thank the fans for their support, explain the mix up with Melo for the first Holland goal, and leave much-maligned coach Dunga with the task of explaining the team’s exit to the press.
The former World Cup winner never really won the backing of Brazilian football fans with his emphasis on defensive, rather than flowing, attacking football, and took the blame for the defeat, saying “I am the coach, without doubt I must take responsibility.” It is certainly only a matter of time until he resigns and his successor will be charged with restoring national footballing pride.