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Monday, June 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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World Cup: Brazil deft but not dazzling

The Washington Post

MUNICH, Germany — The stage seemed set for a dazzling performance from Brazil on Sunday evening. There was a festive sellout crowd inside Allianz Arena, and lining up across the field from the team widely viewed as the world's best was a relative World Cup newcomer, from a country with scant soccer history.

Surely the Brazilians — merely ordinary in their opening victory over Croatia — would show why they are the tournament favorites. They fell short of that, but Adriano and Fred scored to give Brazil a 2-0 victory over Australia.

Brazil won its record ninth consecutive World Cup game, its fourth straight by shutout. Its win, combined with the scoreless draw earlier in the day between Japan and Croatia, secured a spot in the second round for the defending champion.

Credit Australia, which held a world ranking of 42nd at the start of the World Cup, with frustrating the Brazilians with their well-organized and physical defense. Despite the loss, the Australians have a shot at advancing to the next round; a tie against Croatia on Thursday in Stuttgart will get them through.

"There's no doubt about the morale; the morale is high," Australia manager Guus Hiddink said of his team. "They're eager and ambitious to go into the next round."

The Australian team's cutesy nickname — the Socceroos — reinforces their underdog feel, but they brought plenty of weapons and confidence to the field, starting with Hiddink, who took the Netherlands to the semifinals in 1998 and then repeated the feat with host South Korea in 2002.

When Australia made its first and only other World Cup appearance in 1974, it brought a squad of part-time players — including a private detective, a tailor and a milkman — to West Germany and returned home with zero goals. This squad brought 15 players from some of Europe's top leagues, including forwards Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell, who plays for Liverpool.

"We can be proud of how the team performed," Hiddink said. "I think the difference was they are more [deadly] when they're coming into the box. We had two or three good opportunities [to score], but we failed to make it good."

Brazil took the lead four minutes into the second half, but the Socceroos had plenty of chances to equalize.

"Australia was very good physically and they have very good players," Brazil manager Carlos Alberto Parreira said. "The biggest worry was about the aerial game they have. It was a difficult match, and we deserved this victory."

Ronaldo, who was heavily criticized for his lackluster performance in Brazil's opener against Croatia and underwent tests Wednesday after complaining of dizziness and headaches, started at forward. His performance, like many of his teammates, was mixed.

Ronaldo lost the ball a couple of times in the box, and he flat-out whiffed on a volley attempt off a pass from Kaka in the first half. He was whistled for offsides in the 31st minute. Unhappy about the call, he shot the ball into the goal anyway. German referee Markus Merk issued him a yellow card.

But Ronaldo also showed why he is dangerous, and why Parreira continues to start him. Late in the first half, as he ran with midfielder Vince Grella on his shoulder, Ronaldo unleashed a rocket shot with his right foot that went just wide. Early in the second half, he set up Brazil's first goal.

Ronaldinho, who was given very little space throughout the game, played the ball ahead to Ronaldo, who held it on the left side of the box. He tried a step-over move, drew three defenders, and then squared the ball to Adriano, who took a touch and blasted it into to the lower right corner of the goal in the 49th minute.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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