Brazil pay price for 20 minutes of mayhem

PORT ELIZABETH - Netherlands tweaked Brazilian nerves, rode their luck, enjoyed some inspiration from Wesley Sneijder and ousted the five-times champions in 20 minutes of World Cup mayhem on Friday.

Brazil, with a solid defence and lethal counter-attacks, had looked almost unstoppable in their previous four games and, for the first 45 minutes, another win looked the only likely outcome.

Boosted by Robinho's 10th minute goal, they gave a dominant first-half performance and, at least in flashes, played some of their best football of the tournament.

One move in particular stood out as Robinho left half the Dutch team in his wake, slipped the ball to Luis Fabiano, who backheeled to Kaka, who in turn saw his chipped effort brilliantly saved by Maarten Stekelenburg.

The Netherlands were poor, with Arjen Robben's refusal to use his right foot leading into dead-ends as the Brazilian defenders comfortably blocked his progress.

But it was clear even in the first-half that the Brazilians were allowing themselves to get wound up.

Throughout the tournament, Dunga and his players have criticised referees, giving the impression that they feel the world is against them, while at the same time harassing the officials mercilessly.

Possibly feeling they could exploit this, the Dutch infuriated Brazil and their feisty coach with some blatant theatrics and crunching tackles, and it seemed enough to put the South Americans off their game.

Coincidence or not, eight minutes into the second half, Brazil's four years of meticulous planning for the World Cup began to unravel in dramatic style.

Sneijder, playing against his Inter Milan team mates Julio Cesar, Maicon and Lucio, floated a long cross-shot into the penalty area, Brazil's Felipe Melo went up for the same ball as his goalkeeper and touched it into his own goal.


The goal changed the course of the game completely and the Dutch appeared to believe they could win.

Clearly aware that the Brazilians, playing under huge pressure with the hopes of 190 million compatriots on their shoulders, were already edgy, they continued to play on the fraying nerves of their opponents to great effect -- even if it was unsporting.

Robben rolled on the ground every time he was nudged and there were plenty of sneaky tackles, time-wasting and needless remonstrating with the referee.

In the middle of this, Sneijder popped up to head the Netherlands in front, before the Brazilians lost their heads completely and had Felipe Melo sent off five minutes later.

If Kaka had been anywhere near his best, Brazil could have saved the game and stayed on course for a possible final with Argentina.

When Kaka was gifted the ball on the edge of the area with the score at 1-1, a goal seemed a certainty, yet he side-footed the ball wide.

After the Dutch goal, he began one of his characteristic bursts down the touchline and a goal seemed on the cards.

But, instead of powering into the centre and scoring as he might have done in his heyday, he allowed himself to be pushed wide and shot weakly into the side-netting.

His miss left Brazil with a long flight home to face the inevitable recriminations.

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