23 June 2006, 17:49
My brother thinks I look like Juninho, the back-up midfielder for Brazil. I used to find this insulting. Now I’m just going to go with it. Juninho Pernambucano got a start Thursday against Japan as Brazil rested Emerson and some of its other stars. Just before halftime when Brazil was trailing 1-0, Juninho headed the ball to Ronaldo who headed it in. The Brazilians had been sleepwalking (but winning) through the better part of two and a half games. Suddenly they were awake.
Juninho, whose real name is Antônio Augusto Ribeiro Reis Junior, takes his nickname from the word “junior” (There are many other Brazilian soccer players named Juninho) and from the province in which he was born. He is 31 years old, and this is his first and probably his last World Cup. He is a specialist in long-range shots. He scored Brazil’s second goal with a scorcher from 35 yards.
Another bench-warmer Gilberto (not to be confused with Gilberto Silva or Gilberto Gil) was next. Doing a remarkable Roberto Carlos impression, he streaked down the left and finished beautifully. Should Brazil play their second string? The understudies looked like stars.
The stars did their part too. Ronaldo scored two, making him the all-time leader in World Cup goals. His turn and clinical finish on the second was the kind of thing that makes him unstoppable. Ronaldinho, meanwhile, hopped kangaroo-like through the midfield. It was the first time we’ve seen him with that spring in his step. It was also the first time that he passed the ball like a visionary. Perhaps, he’s rested and ready to go. Robinho, a substitute-star who was playing the part of Adriano, must have glue on his shoes. A little guy, he trots around, banging off and slipping between much bigger men. The ball is always with him. And Kaka. Well, Kaka never went to sleep. Whether he’s on the right or in the middle, he’s smooth and sure.
My friend Emily Richards, who had picked Italy to beat Ghana in the final, wrote to me after the match, “I want to change my bet. I now know that Brazil will win the World Cup, perhaps beating Ecuador or Ghana. (I still love Ghana.) Brazil is soooo good.” You learn something new every day.
A similar revelation came to me earlier on Thursday: The U.S. is not soooo good. I went to watch the match at a bar in Brooklyn. It was packed, and I had to crane my neck to see the big screen. What I saw was a mediocre team, losing in the one area that it usually excels: running. The USA was outmatched by Ghana, as they were by the Czechs.
Many of the people at the bar were angry. They expressed this by saying things, like, “Run!” or “Come on. I could’ve scored there.” I took it that many of them were not soccer fans. Feeling tense, physically uncomfortable, and a bit superior (I admit it, ashamedly), I went home for the second half. When the whistle blew, all I felt was relief. On to better things. Go Ghana!
What happened, Czechs? I thought you’d go far. You started brightly against Italy but crumbled. There goes my bracket.
Brazil v Ghana
Italy v Socceroos
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