Brazil have made their way to the last 16 of the World Cup but the route was anything but scenic. The game had much cynicism in which opponents attempted to exaggerate the harm of any challenge, and Kaká was sent off by the referee, Stéphane Lannoy, with a second yellow card in the 88th minute.
He put out his elbow as the substitute Kader Keita ran towards him and, while that could primarily have been intended as self-protection, the action was risky. "He pushed him," said Sven-Goran Eriksson, the Ivory Coast manager. "How hard he hit him I don't know. It didn't look too bad."
The Swede then added, "Brazil should not complain." To Eriksson there was a rough justice in it all since his opponents eased into a 2-0 lead when Luís Fabiano's second goal ought to have been disallowed. "It's hard to cope with Fabiano, particularly when he handles the ball twice."
The rancour was reciprocated. "The player who commits the foul escapes the yellow card," said the Brazil manager Dunga. "I have to congratulate him for that. It was totally unjustified. Kaká was fouled and yet he was punished."
Only connoisseurs of gamesmanship and melodrama would have thought the match worthy of their time. Brazil had been far better in all departments. It ought to have been easy to let the occasion peter out even if Didier Drogba had headed home from Yaya Touré's delivery in the 79th minute.
In practice Brazil added lavishly to the irritations instead of rising above them. They are still entitled to be peeved that Elano's outstanding display ended with the former Manchester City midfielder being borne away on a stretcher with an ankle injury.
The tone of authority that is Brazil's trademark was visible for long enough to make sure of the points. Any notion that this country has a special duty to entertain always did have a patronising tone. We ought to salute Brazil for what they often are, leaders in the preparation and schooling of footballers.
The manager, Dunga, is the embodiment of that strand in his nation's sporting identity. It did not come as a surprise that Brazil scored twice in the opening fixture but people should have been puzzled when North Korea got a goal near the end. Dunga must have reconciled himself to the lapse since he chose the same starting line-up in Soccer City.
While resilience is a constant theme, a potential for the spectacular is always present as well. The side took the lead with an explosive goal in the 25th minute. Fabiano was involved early in the deft interplay that ended with Kaká returning possession to him for a searing finish from a tight angle that took the ball high past a helpless Boubacar Barry at the goalkeeper's near post.
The striker thus ended a goalless spell of nine months with his country. Pattern and purpose were more apparent from Brazil in the remainder of the first half. Ivory Coast's patchiness must be galling to tournament organisers who hoped to see an impressive African line-up. Eriksson's squad, though, is far below the leaders in the world rankings, Brazil.
Dunga's side were not short either of peripheral benefits. Having opened their campaign at Ellis Park, they enjoyed the advantage of staying in Johannesburg. The Ivorians were less well settled in more than one respect and even the restoration of the captain Drogba to the starting line-up conveyed as much unease as encouragement, irrespective of his eventual goal.
Great striker though he is, it was still bemusing that it could be deemed appropriate for him to play a full part with a fractured arm. At least the player himself did not act as if he had any misgivings about submitting himself to a rugged contest.
Kaká was not deterred either. He came to South Africa following a difficult time with Real Madrid, who were underachieving in any case. Nonetheless, an effective Kaká is a necessary element in Dunga's plan and, while his work at the goal was not astonishing, it was exactly what the moment required. Kaká, free of suspension, could be potent in the knockout stages.
By half-time the game looked as if it was moving well beyond the reach of Eriksson's squad. That impression seemed to be confirmed when Fabiano extended the lead with a goal of technique, persistence and considerable dubiety. His flicks took him away from Siaka Tiéné and Didier Zokora, twice, before his half-volley beat Barry, but along the way the ball had been guided by his arm.
Little went right for Ivory Coast and Drogba, free at the far post, was soon heading wide when he might have cut the deficit sooner. In essence his side were too weak in defence to contain Brazil, who relished the licence they were granted. A third goal came in the 62nd minute as an untroubled Kaká broke on the left and rolled the ball back for Elano to claim his second goal of the tournament.
He was to do further harm because he himself was damaged by a challenge from Cheick Tioté that caught him on the ankle. The midfielder was carried off and the game was depleted in the process. A slackening may have been inevitable but the decline was especially marked because of the loss of such a performer.
Brazil, despite the tarnished episodes, had hinted that not only are they potent but they have the means to play at a very high level as this World Cup takes shape.
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.