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Brazil Gets Benefit of the Doubt, 1-0 World Cup Win Over Spain

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Was it a goal or wasn’t it?

Most of the near-sellout crowd of 70,000 at Jalisco Stadium here Sunday afternoon thought it was.

Australian referee Christopher Bambridge, acting on the opinion of his American linesman, David Socha, thought otherwise.

The result was that Spain was denied what television replays clearly showed was a legitimate goal, and the Spanish subsequently lost their World Cup opener, 1-0, to Brazil.

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The controversy over this one is going to last a long while, especially if Spain is eliminated in the first round because of Sunday’s loss. Even the most rabid Brazilian fan--and there were more than a few of those on hand--would agree that the game turned on Bambridge’s decision.

Coach Tele Santana, whose Brazilian team looked dreadful in the first half and improved to merely average in the second, wasn’t about to complain about the gift, however.

Asked whether he thought Spain had been robbed of a goal, Santana replied: “I could not see if it was a goal or not. I was too far away. The referee is the one who makes those decisions.”

In this case, Bambridge will have to live with the fact that he made the wrong one, but in fairness to him it must be said that he, like Santana, was in no position to judge. That was Socha’s job.

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What happened was this:

After the teams were booed off the field at halftime for producing some of the more tedious 45 minutes of soccer the World Cup has seen, they appeared willing to be a little more adventurous in the second 45.

Then, in an astonishing 11 minutes, the game was lost--and won.

In the 54th minute, a powerful shot from Spain’s Miguel Gonzalez thundered against the crossbar and bounced downward behind Brazil’s goalkeeper, Carlos and back into play.

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Had it crossed the line? An instant decision was needed because the ball was still in play, rolling free.

The scoreboard flashed “Goal,” the Brazilians looked stunned, the Spaniards turned to celebrate and Bambridge looked toward Socha on the sideline, wanting an immediate answer.

But poor Socha, running down the line, was hardly well positioned to see if the ball went in or not. To do so, he would have had to be looking directly down the goal line instead of from an angle.

Socha made his choice, deciding that the ball bounced out without crossing the line, and Bambridge made his decision: No goal.

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The Spanish players rushed to surround the referee, protesting vehemently, but to no avail. The Brazilians, breathing a collective sigh of relief, set about taking charge of the game.

Less than three minutes later, it was their turn to be denied, Bambridge this time deciding that a Brazilian had handled the ball before scoring. The incident immediately followed another curious decision when Bambridge, appearing somewhat rattled, awarded Brazil a corner kick instead of a goal kick to Spain.

Roughly seven minutes later, it looked as if his nightmare was going to continue because a shot from Brazil’s Junior slammed against the Spanish crossbar and bounced out. This time, however, teammate Socrates was there to head in the ball before goalkeeper Andoni Zubizaretta could react, and Brazil led, 1-0.

An entire highlight film of the game had taken place in just 11 minutes. As for the rest of the match, the less said, the better.

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Brazil is, according to those who make money by trying to forecast these things, the favorite in this World Cup. Judging by Sunday’s showing, the oddsmakers must not have seen the team play lately.

Unlike Brazil’s great World Cup-winning teams of 1958, 1962 and 1970, this team is a hastily assembled blend of different (and indifferent) talents struggling to play against its natural style.

Brazilian players enjoy the game and play it that way if allowed. Their soccer has an effortless quality, full of artistry and invention. That is why they have so many fans worldwide.

So entertaining was Brazil’s 1970 team, for example, that a huge statue stands outside Jalisco Stadium here, honoring the team’s victory that year. If Los Angeles is Mexico’s home away from home, Guadalajara is Brazil’s.

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For much of Saturday night, the streets were filled with Brazilians--and Mexicans wearing Brazil’s yellow, green and blue colors--dancing, singing, shouting and generally creating the samba atmosphere that accompanies the team wherever it goes.

But, as Sunday’s match showed, Santana is inhibiting his players’ natural ability by forcing them to play to a system--a defensive-minded 4-4-2, with only two true attacking players up front. On Sunday, the two were Walter Casagrande and Careca, but neither will make anyone forget Pele.

Then, too, even though they were responsible for Brazil’s goal, Junior and Socrates have seen better days. Both are veterans whose inclusion in the team was doubtful. Now it is apparent why.

At their peak, the two were among the best in the world. Brazil’s problem is that it has been unable to replace them. The well of extraordinary talent is apparently dry.

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