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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Ecuador 1-1 Brazil

Noboa, 89 Baptista, 73

One of the eternal joys of watching South American football is the sight of those famous yellow shirts buzzing around the pitch, flicking the ball to one another as if 30 yard first time passes were the easiest thing in the world. They play as if they're simply delighted to be there, they attack as if it's always the last minute and they entertain as if they were being paid bonuses for every standing ovation. O Jogo Bonito, indeed. Ecuador are a joy to watch.

Quite how Dunga's side managed to steal a point, and almost three, from such a dazzling team is something of a mystery. The blue-shirted Brazilians should have been crushed long before half-time and their goalkeeper, Julio Cesar, will never play a better game in his career. He was everywhere, like a cartoon character with more limbs than are strictly legal. His first half double-save, beating away a rocket that crept under his poorly constructed wall and then twisting on the ground to lash the rebound away with his feet, was so good that you could see Ecuadorean heads dropping all over the pitch. If he could stop that, he could stop anything.

It is customary at this point, when reporting on a game in Quito, to point out that the Ecuadoreans play 2,800 metres above sea level in a rarefied atmosphere that can sap the life out of the uninitiated. But while that can explain away the lack of energy in Brazil's performance, it can't explain the lack of responsibility and heart. You know when a team has gone to sleep at the back when you can't be entirely sure whether they're playing man-to-man marking or zonal. All too often, Brazil simply didn't care and Ecuador cut through their midfield again and again, scampering in on goal as if no-one was there to stop them.

I was too young to see Elvis Presley lurching through the humiliating final months of his career, but I imagine that it was a lot like watching Ronaldinho. While Presley had his sweaty jumpsuits and struggled to read the autocue through a drug-addled blur, Ronaldinho has his alarmingly tight Brazil shirt and struggles to read the game through, presumably, his meandering fantasies of what he should do with all of his money. His one contribution to the game, besides standing around with his hands on his hips thinking about hot-dogs, was to half-heartedly prod a free-kick into the kneecaps of the Ecuadorian wall. It was no coincidence that Brazil improved markedly as soon he shuffled off the pitch. Perhaps he should stick to soft-drink commercials. He brings a lot more life to them.

His replacement, the Roma striker Julio Baptista , scored with practically his first touch and, from around the stadium, you could hear 40,000 Ecuadorian hands slapping 40,000 Ecuadorean foreheads in a communal Homer Simpson 'Do'h!' moment. All the possession, all the chances, and then they go and let that happen. But the hosts weren't to be thwarted, not after all of that, and they finally snatched a share of the points when substitute Cristian Noboa blasted home from the edge of the six yard box after yet another Cesar stop.

Brazil lie five points behind the Paraguay in the South American World Cup group, snuggled into the fourth and final qualifying place. They'll reach the finals, as they always do, but they'll have to improve on this if they're to have any hope of success. A little defensive training might help for starters but, on the evidence of this, the watching eyes of the European powers have little to fear.

UNLUCKY - How many chances did Ecuador’s Christian Benitez need to score? The Santos star tore Brazil to pieces, but everything he hit seemed to veer wide or cruise over. With just a little bit of luck, he could have rattled in a famous hat-trick.

STEAMROLLER - Brazil were flattened into the turf here and I can’t overstate enough how fortunate they were to sneak back home with a point. Ecuador had 23 chances to score and they only managed to take one of them. Dunga is a very, very lucky man.

BRAINS OF THE OPERATION - Wigan’s Antonio Valencia usually plays out wide in the Premier League, but left to his own devices in the centre for his country, he was terrific. He repeatedly loped forward, admittedly through the sparse wilderness of the Brazilian midfield, crashing shots off the woodwork with impunity.

PUNTER’S RANT - Anyone who backed Brazil without realising the altitude of Quito will be furious with themselves, but even with that disadvantage, they would have expected better. Dunga’s side just didn’t perform here at all, getting all the simple things wrong.

MAN OF THE MATCH - Julio Cesar gave a goalkeeping masterclass here. Alert and brave, he dealt with almost everything that came his way. It was only after yet another short-range stop that a rebound was finally thumped past his ears at Mach 3. I always said I’d never give a ‘10’ in my ratings. I almost did here.

Crowd - 41,000
Yellow Cards - Elano, Gilberto, Marcelo, Dani Alves (Brazil)
Red Cards - None
Brazil -
Julio Cesar (rating) 9, Maicon 6 (Dani Alves 6, 23rd), Lucio 5, Luizao 5, Marcelo 5, Felipe Melo 5, Gilberto Silva 4, Ronaldinho 3 (Julio Baptista 7, 70th), Elano 4 (Josue 5, 61st), Luis Fabiano 5, Robinho 5
Ecuador -
Jose Cevallos 7, Neicer Yano 6, Ivan Hurtado 7, Giovanny Espinosa 8, Walter Ayovi 7, Segundo Castillo 7, Edison Mendez 7, Joffre Mendez 7 (Cristian Noboa 7, 73rd) , Antonio Valencia 7, Felipe Caicedo 7 (Pablo Palacios 6, 90th), Christian Benitez 7