Ronaldinho drowns in a sea of Brazilian mediocrity
FRANKFURT, July 2: Ronaldinho arrived in Germany as the world's best player but, like the rest of the five-times world champions, failed totally to live up to his billing.
The ever-grinning forward failed to score a goal, restricting himself to his characteristic flicks and shimmies without ever turning them into anything effective as he drowned in a sea of mediocrity.
Brazil tumbled out of the World Cup on Saturday after losing 1-0 to old enemies France in the quarter-final, the first time since 1990 they had failed to make the final.
Yesterday, their ageing team produced a performance of breathtaking apathy as they failed to seriously test goalkeeper Fabien Barthez.
Incredibly, with 20 minutes to play and the team 1-0 down in a World Cup quarter-final, Brazil often had six players in their own half of the field calmly exchanging passes as if they had nothing to play for.
It was almost as if they had come to believe they had a divine right to be in the final and that they would score almost at will.
Cafu, their 36-year-old team captain, admitted as much: ''I had the sensation that we felt we could settle the game from one moment to the next,'' he said.
Certainly, that has often been the case in the recent past.
In numerous games under coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, Brazil have looked second-best but their ruthless efficiency in front of goal has given them what in the end looked like easy victories.
Their 3-0 win over Ghana in the second round was typical, with the West Africans dominating large parts of the game.
Brazil had arrived in Germany as world, Copa America and Confederations Cup champions, the latter two titles having been achieved with wins over old enemies Argentina.
Possibly, however, they peaked too soon, producing a dream performance to beat Argentina 4-1 in the Confederations Cup last year.
Significantly, that performance was achieved with Cicinho and Gilberto in the full back positions and without Ronaldo in attack.
In the World Cup, however, Parreira brought back veterans Cafu and Roberto Carlos, while Ronaldo lumbered around the penalty area, doing little more than waiting for the ball to come to him.
Not even his three goals, which allowed him to become the highest scorer in World Cup tournaments with 15, will save him from the inquests.
Brazil's best performance in Germany was in the first-round match against Japan when, having already qualified, Parreira brought back Cicinho and Gilberto and gave Robinho a run-out in attack. His side responded with a 4-1 win.
But coach Parreira, often criticised for being over-cautious, reverted to the veterans for the knockout stages amid a collective sigh of exasperation back home.
Parreira has not yet officially quit or been sacked but there seems little likelihood that he will continue.
No Brazilian coach in history has ever kept the job after failing to win the cup -- though Tele Santana, beaten in 1982, resigned and then returned later for 1986.
Even before the competition began, Parreira admitted the only way for him to stay would be by adding a sixth title to the country's history. ''It's not a taboo I would like to break,'' he said.