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World Cup: Brazilian Beast Slain By Dutch Determination

Netherlands' Dirk Kuyt, left, and Brazil's Luis Fabiano go for the ball during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Brazil at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2010. AP

These days, the beautiful game has something beastly about it.

In a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Netherlands, Brazil donned clogs and tried to stomp their way over an opponent whose players seemed simply smaller, more vulnerable, yet only slightly more prone to falling over.

That the Brazilian approach failed was an embarrassment for the world's premier footballing nation, an embarrassment of riches being deliberately turned into ugly penury.

Special Section: 2010 World Cup

Where once, these two teams might have included several creative midfield players, the 2010 Brazilian version was full of large thighs, large hamstrings and large doses of ligament-threatening tackles.

The game began with three dives in three minutes, all of them Dutch, all of them in anticipation of nasty challenges that never actually came.

It was as if the Dutch knew that Brazil, with most of its squad over 6 feet tall and seemingly at least few feet broad, would impose itself with muscle first and mellifluous football a little later.

It was as if the big boys in the playground were taking on the puny ones.

So after ten minutes, it was little surprise that Holland gave away a child-like goal.

Felipe Melo could scarcely believe how much room Robinho had down the middle.

True, center-back Joris Mathijsen had somehow managed to hurt himself in the warmup and been replaced Andre Ooijer.

But as Melo's pass found him, Robinho had time to consider just how wonderful it was that all eleven of the Brazil team were married and would live happily ever after, before consigning to ball to a cheery resting place beyond Stekelenberg.

That the nearest defender to Robinho was Dutch striker Arjen Robben shows just how elementary this all was.

This wasn't total football of Holland's glorious past. This was a total mess.

It was also all Brazil seemingly needed to continue to squeeze its hands around the Dutch epiglottis.

Just one moment of brilliance shone through the beastly nature of the first half.

Robinho, falling, flicked the ball to Luis Fabiano who flicked it to Kaka, whose shot was brilliantly flicked aside by Stekelenberg.

Otherwise, the Brazilians had spent most of the first half cursing the Japanese referee's decisions.

Dunga, the Brazilian coach, invited an aneurysm with every tweet of the whistle, every wave of the flag.

This was what we'd expect of Argentina and Germany, not Brazil and Holland.

Michel Bastos kept flinging himself at Robben.

And, after another ridiculously pointless Bastos lunge resulted in a free kick, Sneijder crossed. Felipe Melo and Julio Cesar created a mid-air collision.

The ball touched Melo's head, before bouncing straight into the net.

Fifty three minutes had gone and so had Brazil's sturdy equilibrium.

Brazil froze. Should they try to win with more beastliness? Or should they suddenly dedicate themselves to beauty?

Or was the reality that Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano were really not quite all that the hype had promised?

The Dutch didn't sit back and admire their artwork. They realized that the Brazilian beast barked, but had serious gingivitis.

Many of the great Brazilian players, like former captain Socrates, describe this current national team as despicable because of its emphasis on muscle and scoring from the set piece.

So how delicious it might have been for them when it was a set piece that was their undoing.

A corner was flicked back by Dirk Kuyt.

Wesley Sneijder, the one creative Dutchman that the Brazilians had been desperate to snuff out, watched the ball come towards him and let it bounce from his head and into the corner of the net.

With every challenge, and every refereeing decision or non-decision, the Brazilians whined and waved their arms about as if someone had taken away their tricycle.

And then Felipe Melo lost his head and his place on the pitch. A vicious, pointless stamp on Robben deserved and received a straight red card.

Robben knows how to incite defenders. But this was Melo taking muscle too far, a vigilante without a cause.

The Dutch were not without their own enforcers.

Van Bommel and DeJong stuck their knees into opponents' soft tissue. They slipped their toes along Brazilian ankles.

But, when it came to chances, Brazil had beastly few.

For the Dutch, Kuyt could very easily have made it three, so could Sneijder.

Meanwhile, Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano suddenly realized that they were supposed to do something about all this. Yet there was no one to provide them with a telling pass, a brilliant dribble that left defenders reeling.

Perhaps they'd forgotten how.

So many whose posture is one of aggression, of confrontation, of beastliness have no idea how to react to adversity.

Perhaps if Brazil had enjoyed a little more confidence in its beauty, the result might have been very different.