For the majority of Brazilian people, the Seleção and the World Cup has a valuable space in their lives. You wouldn’t expect less from a nation that won it five times; the World Cup is just a part of who we are. By the time the 2006 World Cup came, I remember the streets in Brazil decorated in yellow and green, with paintings on the road and on the walls of the whole city of Curitiba.
I went to visit my grandma in Brasília before the tournament kicked off, and like Curitiba, the whole place was yellow and green.
Since triumphing in 2002, we’ve been waiting for the Hexa – the sixth title. In 2006, the whole nation was very optimistic, an optimism that has only been surpassed since in the 2018 World Cup.
The term ‘golden generation’ is thrown about a lot these days, but when it comes to Brazil, several generations could make their case. The 2006 group was one of those squads, featuring a ‘Fantastic Four’ of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaká, and Adriano, supported by a cast featuring Cafú, Roberto Carlos, Gilberto Silva, and Dida. The side was managed by 1994 winner Carlos Alberto Parreira, who would later face criticism for his pragmatic tactics. But at the time, things looked good.
Brazil’s way to the last eight was easy, although the team didn’t show any flashes of the true capability of the outstanding talent available at their disposal. The Canarinho managed to win an easy group consisting of Croatia, Australia, and Zico’s Japan.
In the round of 16, Brazil faced Ghana. In an interesting match – arguably Brazil’s best performance in World Cup 2006 – Ronaldo was able to show his real talent for the first time in the tournament, scoring the opener in what would be a 3-0 win after Kaká sent O Fenômeno through on goal.
Waiting for Brazil in the quarter-finals was France, a side paradoxically rejuvenated with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, and Claude Makelele, all of whom came out of retirement to help the team qualify for the World Cup.
The French have always been our bogey team in the World Cup, with our only win against them coming in the 1958 semi-final. Since then, Brazil lost in the 1986 quarter-finals to a side led by the legendary Michel Platini, and in the – speaking as a Brazilian – controversial ’98 final. How else was this match going to go?
Yes, we scored four against Japan, and yes, we scored three against Ghana that year. But this is the game that I’m most attached to, though obviously for the wrong reasons – Brazil’s quarter-final defeat to France.
A French masterclass
Zinedine Zidane will always be one of the greatest of all time, a wonderful player capable of doing unimaginable things with the ball on his feet, and also a player for the big moments. After the disappointment of Japan/Korea four years earlier, he looked for a chance for redemption; the possibility of reaching the semi-finals in ’06 was the perfect opportunity.
Nothing was going to stop Zidane on that day in Frankfurt.
It simply didn’t matter what Brazil tried to do. From the moment he stepped on the pitch and the first ball was kicked, he felt unstoppable.
His performance that match, from what I remember, is one of the best individual performances in the history of the World Cup. The step-overs, the feints, the lobs above the opposition, the passes, pretty much everything Zidane did on the pitch was incredible.
On the top of the amazing personal performance, Zidane was vital to France’s 1-0 win. Thierry Henry scored the winner off a free-kick coming from Zidane, who was able to find his counterpart unmarked at the far post.
Brazil, as a nation, is used to good football. From the days of Pelé and Zagallo in the 1970 World Cup triumph to Telê Santana’s golden team in 1982, we’ve had great examples of O Jogo Bonito.
From a team as talented as the ’06 squad, with players that encapsulated O Jogo Bonito in Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, Brazil’s performance against France is certainly one that a Brazilian ought to forget. It may be due to Parreira’s conservative tactics, but the Canarinho played too slowly, too apathetically, without any intent at all.
Even as a little kid, I knew how badly Brazil were playing. My idols at the time couldn’t find their rhythm. Brazil got their first and only shot on target in added time. On the top of that, France’s goal came from a marking error by Roberto Carlos, who didn’t follow Henry on the far post, summing up a frustrating evening.
The expectation coming into the 2006 World Cup was high. People wouldn’t talk about anything else, especially the kids at school. We would play football pretending we were Ronaldinho and Kaká, trying to do the incredible things those guys did with their feet. The euphoria was all around, and when they were knocked out of the tournament, it left a hole in my young heart.
At that age, I didn’t understand that another World Cup would happen again four years later, but the disappointment was so big that I cried a lot. All I wanted at the time was to see Brazil lifting the trophy for the sixth time and looking back at it today, we had the talent and capacity to go through all the way.
With Brazil playing the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup against Belgium tonight, the dream remains the same, those yellow and green colours stay the same. I just hope we can have better luck this time.