WITH the exception of when Crystal Palace’s away strip used to mimic it, there is something special about a football team in the famous kit of Brazil.
The Seleçao used to play in white, as New Zealand do now. But since a competition to redesign it around the colours of the national flag, the team has taken on a mystique. No major trophy in the last 10 years has done little to diminish it.
Brazil warmed up for the Olympics at Middlesbrough’s Riverside, and will bring their 100% record back to St James’ Park on Saturday for a quarter-final against Honduras.
Many in the crowd were of an age where they seemed to be watching football for the first time but will be hard-pressed to see many teams in their lifetime with such high skill levels.
It was not quite the iconic Brazil strip – a clash with the “All Whites” ensured the trademark socks were swapped for blue ones – but it was unmistakably them. The rhythmic beat of the drums was there, and the football for which they have become famous.
Poster boy Neymar, who for years Real Madrid and Chelsea have been desperate to break the bank for, led the way at the start. The 25, 201 crowd, who seemed to be in shorter ticket queues than during Newcastle’s opening-day teething problems, briefly went wild when he netted within five minutes, only to quickly quieten when they noticed a correctly-raised offside flag.
When the ball was pulled back from the left by-line he tried a spectacular volley horizontal to the ground, but hit it into the turf.
Groans greeted the 62nd-minute open goal he missed when picked out by Rafael da Silva on the edge of the six-yard box. By then he had been upstaged by Brazil’s No.9, Leandro Damiao, whose second-half flick to beat a bewildered Tim Myers had the crowd purring.
Neymar’s wastefulness did nothing to dampen his ovation when he was the first to be told to put his feet up. Mexican waves like the first one to roll around the terraces in the opening 15 minutes are normally a sign of fan boredom, but this was an expression of exuberance. “We were all on the bench admiring the way they were playing, their movement and their invention, ” said New Zealand coach Neil Emblem. “I reckon they will be gold medallists.”
At just 16 teams, this is a small tournament but not an elite one. In order to have all the footballing continents represented, New Zealand were forced to battle through a qualifying competition which paired them with international pygmies Vanuatu (population 224,564; national anthem “Yumi, Yumi, Yumi”) in the semi-finals.
They forced a first-half save from Gabriel, but it was routine. Within three minutes the Seleçao led. Danilo played a one-two with Leandro and calmly slotted under Michael O’Keefe. Five minutes later Marcelo – the over-age Real Madrid left-back – produced a lovely bit of skill to release Alex Sandro, who squared for an unmarked Leandro.
When Leandro missed Marcelo’s dangerously curling 53rd-minute free-kick, Tottenham Hotspur’s Sandro stabbed in.
Having tackled Tommy Smith from behind five minutes earlier, Alex Santos earned a second yellow card for diving. The crowd booed Ian Hogg, himself on a booking when the Brazilian took his penalty area tumble. They picked the wrong villain, but were probably just disappointed at one less master technician to marvel at.
Most of Brazil’s football was very restrained. The man in the blue body-stocking excitedly running the length of the Leazes End probably broke sweat more often. But when they turned it on, Brazil’s football was delicious. Yummy, yummy, yummy in fact.
BRAZIL: Gabriel, Da Silva, Thiago Silva, Juan, Alex Sandro, Sandro (Romulo 81), Danilo, Marcelo, Lucas, Leandro Damiao (Oscar 80), Neymar (Alexandre Pato 75). Subs (not used): Neto, Hulk, Bruno Uvini, Ganso.
Sent off: Alex Sandro (76). Booked: Alex Sandro.
Goals: Danilo 23, Leandro Damiao 29, Sandro 52.
NEW ZEALAND: O’Keefe, Thomas (Myers 46), Nelsen, Smith, Hogg , Payne, Rojas (Lucas 81), McGlinchey, Barbarouses (Howieson 46), Smeltz, Wood. Subs (not used): Gleeson, Feneridis, Musa, McGeorge.
Booked: Myern, Hogg.
Attendance: 35, 000 Referee: Bakary Gassama (Gambia).