PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2006, 12:00am

As a neutral I have always supported Brazil when it comes to football. It is like supporting Fiji at rugby sevens, or in the old days, cheering the West Indies when it came to cricket.

Why? Simply because these countries play the game in such an unfettered style, giving the impression this is how the gods would play the game.

Sadly, football's spiritual guardians let their legions of fans down with a lacklustre performance against France, who took on the mantle of the deposed magicians.

That was undoubtedly due to the presence of Zinedine Zidane, who ruled the midfield with the assured air of a conqueror, and the sublime touch of the wondrous Thierry Henry. French sport always has the ability to be touched by the muse. Well, sadly for Brazil, that night in Frankfurt was one such time when Les Bleus felt the magic wand touch their shoulders.

But this is not about French domination. It is about Brazil's failure to play their traditional attacking game. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira will have to carry the can. He disbanded his so-called magic quartet - ignoring Adriano for Juninho - and didn't bring on the effervescent Robinho until late in the game.

When he saw Brazil mis-firing, Parreira was still reluctant to take off his old heroes. Less-than-inspirational captain Cafu was finally replaced by young talent Cicinho when time was almost up. And it was only in the latter stages, that Brazil began to play with any sort of dynamism.

It was a pity for a team who have played in all 18 World Cups. It was a pity that Brazil failed to find the equaliser against France, simply because they were being over-shadowed by a side who were playing magical football.

Before the tournament began, Parreira said: 'Winning a sixth World Cup title would not help Brazil solve day-to-day problems such as poverty, violence and unequal wealth distribution.'

He added: 'The World Cup will not change Brazil at all. Things such as the poor state of education and health will not change. What happens is you have a state of euphoria where people are happy for a period of time, but structurally the country does not change.'

He is right. But by abandoning Brazilian tradition he has also denied the people in the slums of Sao Paolo and those living in the shadows of the ritzy heights of Rio de Janeiro those precious moments of 'euphoria' which makes life worth living. Now they are world champions no more. Life is a complete drudgery.

There has been more than one example of a side curbing their natural attacking instincts, and trying to win a game by defensive tactics. Argentina went out simply because coach Jose Pekerman decided to sit on a one-goal lead against Germany.

Pekerman's folly was to replace playmaking visionary Juan Roman Riquelme with a defensive midfielder. This has happened countless times over the past 3? weeks. A side take the lead and immediately go on the defensive. And when things began to go wrong, Pekerman bungled even more badly by keeping the precocious Lionel Messi on the bench.

Coaches who impose strait-jacketed styles on teams who hold the license to play magical football should be banned.

Number of the Day: 201

The record number of goals Brazil have scored in 18 World Cups from 1930 to 2006. But sadly, they couldn't find 202 against France.