The World Cup Calendar, July 3rd. The Rivaldo Show

It’s a shame that the capacity of Nantes Stade de la Beaujoire is so low, as only 35,000 fans were able to watch the thrilling encounter between Brazil v Denmark live. Both Brazil and Denmark had won their respective Last 16 ties 4-1, with Brazil topping their group and Denmark finishing 2nd, behind France. Both sides were playing attractive football and the game was set up to be an exciting encounter. For the regular reader of The World Cup Calendar, you may have noticed a mini-series developing, the Brazilian Chronicles. We have had The Ronaldinho Show, we have had The Ronaldo Show. Now, valued reader, strap yourself in for *drumroll please* The Rivaldo Show.

Denmark were an impressive side, but Brazil were undoubtedly heavy favourites. The apple cart was well and truly tipped just two minutes in when Denmark took the lead, courtesy of a Martin Jorgensen strike. Centre forward Peter Moller burned past Junior Baiano. Dunga put a stop to Moller’s run by barging him over. The free kick was taken quickly, with Brian Laudrup cutting through the Brazilian defence. Laudrup pulled the ball back to Martin Jorgensen who drilled the ball beyond Claudio Taffarel and the defender on the line to gift Denmark the dream start.

Denmark’s lead lasted less than ten minutes. Ronaldo threaded a pass into space beyond the Danish defence. That pass was latched on to by Bebato, who took a touch to gain control of the ball before shooting from outside the box beyond the outstretched arms of Peter Schmeichel. The shot didn’t appear to be particularly hard, and Schmeichel may feel disappointed to have let in such a soft goal.

Twenty-five minutes in and the game had been turned on its head. Thomas Helveg was dispossessed by Dunga, who again threw himself into a tackle with excessive force. Dunga passed to Ronaldo, who for the second time that match, proved that he was more than just a goal scorer. Ronaldo played a delightful pass through to Rivaldo, who took a touch wide in the box, making the angle tighter that it needed to be, but finishing it nonetheless. Schmeichel dived a little early and Rivaldo deftly lifted the ball over the Manchester United ‘keeper.

Denmark equalised five minutes into the second half, in somewhat hilarious fashion. Martin Jorgensen dribbled through the tight midfield pairing of Dunga and Cesar Sampario, chipping a ball right, into the box. Rather than simply heading the ball away, Roberto Carlos attempted some bizarre overhead scissor kick, totally missing the ball. To make matters worse for the left back, his failed clearance allowed Brian Laudrup to fill the void. Laudrup felt out the bounce, taking the time to calmly blast the football past Claudio Taffarel, tying the score up. Laudrup ran towards the crowd, sliding into an iconic celebration of him lying, right leg crossed over the left and arm pressed to the side of his face, a look of boredom struck across his face.

On the hour mark, Brazil regained their lead. Dunga passed the ball to Rivaldo, who dribbled through the centre of the field, the Danish defence backing off all the way. Rivaldo took a shot from some 30 yards out. The ball bounced awkwardly in front of Peter Schmeichel and looped over the Danish goalkeeper’s arms. Marc Rieper threw himself in front of the shot, but a fraction too late. Rivaldo’s pace, movement and control with the ball at his feet was simply proving too much for the Danish defence.

The goals dried up after Rivaldo’s second strike, but the chances certainly didn’t. Helveg took a free kick quickly. Helveg spotted a gap in between the Brazilian defence, chipping the ball into space. That space was quickly occupied by Martin Jorgensen, who reached the ball before Brazil’s centre back, Aldair. He did not have time to get a shot away, as Taffarel raced out to claim the ball.

Rivaldo turned on the style again with minutes to go. He eased past Thomas Helveg, then averted the slide tackle of Michael Schjonberg. He burst into space down the left side of the pitch, cutting the ball into the box to Ze Roberto. The midfielder got a good connection, but failed to direct it towards goal.

The only ugly scene of the game came from Cafu. The right back spent most of his life as the epitome of professional, but with ten minutes to go, he was booked for time wasting. He spent an absurd amount of time standing over the free kick and was eventually cautioned by the Egyptian referee. Cafu was physically angered by this, as this was a costly yellow card. It meant he was suspended for Brazil’s Semi Final against the Netherlands.

In the dying moments Denmark put together a string of neat passes to trouble the Brazilian defence, but the shot was comfortably stopped by Taffarel. Helveg eventually dragged his pass backed to Ebbe Sand, to fired his shot wide of the post. Marc Rieper hit the bar with a header from a free kick even later into stoppage time. It was painfully wide for the Danish fans, who twice in the final moments saw their side agonisingly close to equalising.

Full time came and Brazil were through to the Semis. It was a hard fought match which was fiercely contested by the Scandinavian outfit. Denmark’s Swedish coach, Bo Johansson, called his side brave and stated that they were not afraid of the Brazilians, while Brazil’s coach, Mario Zagallo, stated that it was a very hard, open match. Denmark’s fight was admirable, but ultimately, the better team won. Rivaldo and Ronaldo were building a special rapport, and Dunga and Sampario were mopping up everything in midfield, allowing Carlos and Cafu to act almost as second wingers, such was their attacking nature. Perhaps on another day, Peter Schmeichel may have played to a higher standard and Denmark would have progressed. With Rivaldo’s winner, Denmark’s ambitions of winning their second international tournament in that decade were dashed. Brazil, however, knew they were only two matches away from winning the World Cup. They certainly made the final, but were no match for the host nation, France, in the final. This Quarter Final tie between Brazil and Denmark was an end to end affair and undoubtedly one of the games of the tournament.

Tomorrow’s game: July 4th. Germany v Italy. 2006.