Praise is being heaped on Brazil's performance today, with some calling it the return of "the beautiful game." There were flashes of it, as there often are with Brazil, although they were not tested by a talented Ivory Coast team whose natural ability was stifled by the conservative game plan of coach Sven-Goren Eriksson.
Brazilian soccer has a well deserved mystique that can intimidate and inhibit opponents before they step on the field. Truth is, since Pele's retirement from the international scene after the 1970 World Cup, they have won as many titles as Argentina, Italy and Germany. Brazil has done everything they have needed to do thus far. They took care of a pesky and disciplined North Korea despite a scare towards the end, and won convincingly against the Ivory Coast.
On the positive side, Robinho has been a revelation after his less than stellar time with Manchester City. Kaka has struggled, as he did most of the season at Real Madrid, but produced some of his form in the second half of the Ivory Coast game.
The defense has not been tested much, but has shown an ability and a willingness to join the attack as often as possible. Michel Bastos and Elano have both been stellar in this respect, as has the better known Maicon. The mystifying choice of Eriksson not to start Gervinho, by far their best player against Portugal, alongside Drogba allowed the Brazilian defense the opportunity to move into attack so easily. They won't have that luxury from here on.
Luis Fabiano broke his long scoring drought for the national team with a brilliantly taken goal, but his second is inexorably tainted. Brazil's third goal was superbly set up but should never have been allowed to happen. Siaka Tiene, the Ivorian left back, was in a perfect position to intercept the cross but hesitated, oblivious to the danger as Elano ran past him to meet the perfectly struck ball from Kaka. It was careless defending that has no place in a game such as this.
The attack hasn't yet hit on all cylinders and it will have to as the tournament progresses. They should beat a Portuguese team that has talent but also has some holes. With the annihilation of North Korea, Portugal are all but assured of progressing so the game will not be that meaningful.
Once the elimination rounds start it will be a different story. It could well be that Brazil might have to face Spain in the first round and then the Netherlands probably await them in the quarterfinal. The Netherlands, just like Brazil, have won both their games without getting out of second gear, which is how you want to start a World Cup.
Like every Brazilian team, the 2010 version abounds with talent. Few teams have the luxury of a Dani Alves on the bench,but the talent gap has narrowed over the years. They are also coached by Dunga, who has been there as a player and has a philosophy that might eschew the traditional Brazilian style, but is far better suited for a tournament with an extra elimination round. Any team, including Brazil, can be ambushed by another hitting their stride at just the right time.
One only has to look at Brazil in 2006 when they came up against a French team that didn't allow them a decent look at goal until the 89th minute, and that was from a free kick.
Brazil are currently slightly favored over Argentina to win the cup, but that guarantees nothing. Luck will play a part, but talent is paramount and Brazil oozes talent.
Postscript: While much of the referee comments have focused on the absurd second yellow card for Kaka, I found the Fabiano handball to be far more egregious. The light hearted banter between the referee and Fabiano after the goal, shown so vividly on television, indicates the referee suspicion. In that situation he is duty bound to consult with his linesmen and the fourth official before confirming the goal. He chose not to. I have never seen that on any level of professional competition.