After a slow start, Brazil began to find the kind of fluency that was conspicuously absent in their opener against North Korea. A break-away attack within the first minute ended with Robinho's shot zipping just over, and suggested that the Côte d'Ivoire's more attack-minded approach would give Brazil ample opportunity to counter-punch. Sven Goran Eriksson's men, however, quickly adopted a deeper defensive stance, with everyone bar Didier Drogba chipping in. As against North Korea, the seleção needed a early goal to draw their opposition out of their shells, and on this occasion they got it. Kaká, who had been sloppy in possession up to that point, received a back-heel from Luís Fabiano, somehow kept the ball from a would-be tackler, and slipped a delicate pass back to the Sevilla forward. O Fabuloso finished emphatically, blasting the ball into the roof of the net.
The lead was doubled soon after the interval. Receiving a looping ball, Luís Fabiano brilliantly juggled the ball over three defenders, brought it down, and volleyed home left-footed. The replay showed that Fabiano had handled twice during the build-up, but the goal stood. A sublime goal, hand-ball or not. Brazil were suddenly in the mood, and grabbed a third goal on the hour mark. Kaká looked to be running down a blind alley on the left, but his (slightly deflected) cross found its way through to Elano, who slotted home with ease.
It was to be the No.7's last contribution to the game; he was stretchered off after Tioté decided that Elano's shin would be a sensible place to imprint his studs. Elano was seen limping down the tunnel, so hopefully it's not as serious as it appeared at first look. Amazingly, Tioté escaped punishment, something the Brazilian players were evidently keen to correct in the final 20 minutes. Robinho and Luís Fabiano both tumbled theatrically after minor contact with the midfielder, who eventually did pick up a booking for his troubles.
The Côte d'Ivoire improved in attack after the introduction of Gervinho, whose pace and trickery bear the hallmark of Brazil as much as his name does. It was Didier Drogba, however, who netted the Africans' only goal. Having earlier seen a header drift just wide, the Chelsea striker made no mistake from Yaya Touré's pinpoint pass, glancing past a static Júlio César. It was a rare piece of poor defending from the seleção; Juan had looked quietly assured alongside the ferocious Lúcio, and Felipe Melo provided superb protection all evening from his defensive midfield role. The real talking point, however, was yet to come.
In classic Sesame Street style, the last five minutes were all about one letter (K); but the plot was more melodrama than educational puppetry. So, in abridged form, here goes...(deep breath)... Kader Keita had annoyed Kaká by fouling Michel Bastos. Kaká started going down easily and nagging the referee. Kaká got booked for some handbags with Yaya Touré. Kaká pushed over Kader Keita, which went unpunished. Kader Keita ran into Kaká, who went to fend him off with his arm. Kader Keita dropped to the floor and pretended he'd been hit in the face. Kaká received a second yellow and was sent off. Kader Keita miraculously recovered.
Kader Keita's reputation will never recover.
It was a moment reminiscent of the Rivaldo travesty of 2002, a shameful and indefensible instance of simulation. In the interest of fairness however, we should note that it was only the referee's incorrect response (issuing a yellow card), which distinguished this situation from one earlier in the game (and the countless others that occur in most matches these days). Lúcio went down screaming and clutching his ankle, insinuating that he'd suffered a grave foul, after a Côte d'Ivoire player had done nothing more than run behind him (oh, the temerity!).
It was an undignified end to the game, but one which is unlikely to dampen Brazilian spirits. Confidence will be high in the camp after sealing a convincing win, a result which leaves them needing only a draw with Portugal to qualify as group winners. Kaká's absence for that game, too, may prove to be a blessing in disguise. Another week of fitness work may help Kaká produce more consistently the moments of quality we saw once or twice this evening. And besides, there's a precedent for talismanic No.10s missing games through suspension and then inspiring their team to World Cup glory; Brazil will be hoping that Kaká in 2010 can replicate the example of Zinedine Zidane in 1998.
(Photo credits; (1) & (2) Reuters, (3) Tom Jenkins.)