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Three quick thoughts on Portugal-Brazil (World Cup Group G)


Three quick thoughts on Portugal's 0-0 tie with Brazil in Group G on Friday:

1. Juan was lucky not be sent off. Mexican referee Benito Archundia had his work cut out in a bad-tempered first half in which he booked seven players. But his biggest call was 25 minutes in, when he showed Brazil center back Juan a yellow card for a deliberate handball just inside his own half as Cristiano Ronaldo was poised to break clear. It looked like the call was not severe enough, as even though Juan was far from goal, he was still the last man. It also left Ronaldo distinctly unimpressed and Duda, waving an imaginary card in front of the referee, booked for his complaints. The bad feeling between the sides simmered from then on: Tiago was booked for diving, Filipe Melo was booked and then, it seemed, substituted off just before halftime to avoid a red card.

2. Brazil missed Kaka. And Robinho. And Elano. When Brazil coach Dunga named his World Cup squad, and the outrage that young striker Neymar was omitted had died down, there was concern about the lack of obvious replacement for playmaker Kaka. Dunga had ignored the claims of Ronaldinho, Diego (Juventus) and Alex (Fenerbahce) and instead went with Julio Baptista, who completed only five matches for Roma last season and has played just once for Brazil since last November. Following Kaka's red card against Ivory Coast, Robinho said he'd be happy to step into his position for this game, but Baptista got the nod. With Baptista struggling to get into the game, it left Brazil overly reliant on the right-sided Maicon-Dani Alves partnership to find a breakthrough. With Robinho (rested) and Elano (injured) also out, Brazil failed to create a single chance in the second half. Kaka may have taken some stick for his performances so far, but he did set up two of Brazil¹s goals against Ivory Coast. The sooner Brazil's creative trident returns to the lineup, the better.

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3. Defenses came out on top. Now we know why the most-repeated statistic of the day was that Portugal has kept 21 clean sheets in the 25 games since Brazil beat it 6-2 in November 2008. Along with Uruguay, Portugal is now the only side to have completed its group matches without conceding a goal (Chile may join them later) and goalkeeper Eduardo was seriously tested only twice, smartly pushing Nilmar's effort onto the crossbar and keeping out a late chip from Ramires.

Brazil showed its ability to deal with the physical approach and this was just the kind of pragmatic performance that Dunga might appreciate. There was one moment of apprehension: when Portugal's Raul Meireles missed the target after an hour and collided with goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The Brazil No. 1 took off his jersey and showed that his back was heavily strapped due to a pre-tournament injury. Even if Portugal had wanted to put jim under pressure after that, the giants in Brazils's defense did not allow it.