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England v Brazil Revisited - Ronaldinho Breaks English Hearts At World Cup 2002

Tuesday 14th November 2017

There are runs with the English international team where the potential to go the distance has been so close, that the missing out has been crushing. There was the swagger of Euro ’96 where the Dutch demolition and the tanking of Scotland was done with such aplomb, that the penalty shoot-out loss to Germany still hurts to think of.

In qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, England went from Kevin Keegan resigning in a Wembley toilet following another German defeat, to annihilating the same team 11 months later 5-1 in Munich, in a parade of knowing, attacking football.

Sven Goran Eriksson’s {Keegan’s replacement} side; balanced and sharp, finally buried Argentinian ghosts of the past in the Sapporo Dome in Japan. Mauricio Pochettino playing a central part in felling Michael Owen who had already struck the post in the first half, to allow David Beckham strike, quite tamely, a penalty that somehow found its way home.

Denmark, in the Big Swan stadium, in the second round, hit a big slump, following a terrific group phase. So what sat between England and a World Cup semi-final berth, were Brazil.  Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho. That side.

The build up to game was a fusion of optimism and belief. An axis of Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell had proved solid and a building block for fluidity.  Danny Mills had mixed fortunes, and was in the side due to the bad luck of Gary Neville who had broken a metatarsal bone in his foot. How? Tackling Brazilian, Ze Roberto, in the midst of Champions League semi-final that April.

The triumvirate of Man Utd players; Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, gave the midfield its dexterity and bite, Michael Owen was at his peak in attack, threatening the safety of his own hamstrings with his instant turns of pace.

So much build up to the game, yet for all the promise, it began with the lethargy you’d have expected more from the viewer’s back in England, who had crawled out of their bed for the 7:30 am kick-off. Lucio was the most lethargic of mind however; an unorthodox attempt to clear was seized upon by the uncompromising Owen. 1-0. 

It was time for control. The English rear-guard were compact and resilient.  Brazil grew frustrated.  Cafu chopped down Ashley Cole. Kleberson shot from unrealistic distance. It was a matter of seeing out the half.  1-0 at half-time, England defensively solid, Brazil agitated. And then Ronaldinho decided it was time to dismiss completely the tone of the game, opening a chink in Cole’s defensive sheathing, before angling Rivaldo to side-foot past David Seaman.

If that was adroit, what was to follow five minutes the other side of half-time, was even better. Well that’s only if you take Ronaldinho’s word for it that he in fact meant to lob Seaman from a 35 yard free-kick. It really didn’t look intentional, however it was crushing.

All was not lost though. When Ronaldinho was sent off in the 56th minute – harshly – momentum might have been expected to shift somewhat in England’s favour.  However, Brazil tightened up, and England, disregarding the progress they had made as a team, stiffened. Limited in fluency or edge, where England were expected to rally, they appeared forlorn.

It was a disappointing finish and quite the anti-climax. Luiz Felipe Scolari would go on to deliver the World Cup to expecting Brazilians.

England, having dared to dream, were left with a painful exit; made worse by the weary feeling it left in the mind.

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