Brazil's beautiful game turns ugly (cont'd)
Minute 58: Argentina 2, Brazil 0. Kun Agüero strikes again, this time after Messi dribbles around nearly half the perimeter of Brazil's penalty box before setting the killer finish in motion. Messi's unreal. There's no Ray Hudson in the house tonight, so I serenade Alex with cries of "Lio the Lion!!!" A Chinese photographer nearby casts a quizzical look my way.
Minute 65: Ronaldinho hits the post on a free kick! It's the only pizzazz we'll see from him tonight. Good thing the IOC made all the teams remove their uniform shields -- this Brazil team doesn't deserve to wear the five stars above its badge (signifying the country's five World Cup titles).
Minute 75: "You know what, Alex?" I say. "If Brazil doesn't get any closer this game could get real ugly. Red-card ugly."
Minute 76: Argentina 3, Brazil 0. Penalty! Defender Rafinha doesn't want Agüero to snag a hat-trick, so he dumps him in the box. Obvious penalty. Juan Román Riquelme drills his spot-kick right down the middle. This is getting ugly. Argentine fans (and a few blue-and-white fright-wigged Chinese hinchas) are going crazy in the stands.
Minute 81: As if on cue, Brazil's Lucas gets sent off for a horrific challenge from behind on Javier Mascherano. Cut to another glimpse of the Dunga Face.
Minute 82: A whoosh of human noise rises up outside the room we're in. People are running in numbers, and a media volunteer hurries to pull the doors closed. What's going on? A riot? A Maradona sighting? A journalists' rumble? Sensing a story, I rush outside into a clot of several hundred people who are clearly in a lather over something. A white van screeches off. "Who was that?" I ask a Chinese guy. "Kobe Bryant!" he screams. And just like that, the most famous athlete in Beijing is off.
Forget Bryant's performance on the court for a second. His Olympic public relations performance has been remarkable. At a time when LeBron James thought he would be the king of Beijing, Bryant draws more adoration than anyone else. Plus he's become something of a superfan here, attending swimming events, men's soccer games (Messi gave Bryant his jersey at one game) and perhaps even the women's soccer gold-medal game. (Kobe announced he wants to watch World Player of the Year Marta of Brazil. The man clearly knows his soccer.)
Minute 84: Oh boy. Thiago Neves picks up Brazil's second red card by cutting down Mascherano, who's turning into something of a piñata. You stay classy, Brazil.
Minute 91: The final whistle blows. Argentines dance. Brazilians mope. Maradona's boys are in the gold-medal game.
11:15 p.m.: The scene outside the press-conference room is a madhouse. For the first time in the Olympics you need a ticket to go inside. A sign announces that ticket preference will be given to Argentine and Brazilian journalists. I scam one from a FIFA official and get in anyway.
11:20 p.m.: The moderator for the press conference is a sort of middle-aged Chinese version of the game-show host Wink Martindale. He's apparently trying to get points as a party apparatchik, too. Not once does he call on an Argentine journalist to ask a question during the press conference for Argentine coach Sergio Batista. "The lady from CCTV!" Chinese Wink announces, sending the microphone to a questioner from China state televison. Three questions later he calls on another female journo from CCTV. "Last question!" Chinese Wink says. The Argentine journos grumble. The mullet-haired Argentine coach shrugs. "Well, so much for the day!" Chinese Wink yells.
11:40 p.m. Dunga arrives for his press conference. A surprising number of softballs get tossed up from the Brazilian media. If there's one thing I learned a long time ago, it's that the journalists from the world's best soccer countries don't always ask the best questions, and if you want answers you'd better ask them yourself. So I ask for the microphone.
"Two red cards, defensive play, zero goals. What happened to the Beautiful Game of Brazil?"
The question is translated into Portuguese. Heads swivel. Dunga gives me the full-on Dunga Face. He answers. The translator speaks. "The style of this match is the same as our previous matches. Of course it would be better that we scored, but you cannot always achieve everything. It's like [comparing now to] the 1960s. It would be better for England to have the title of the World Cup. But things go the other way around. That's my comment on your question."
Zing! (Or not.) "He thinks you're English," my pal Peter Berlin from the International Herald Tribune whispers.
"Where are you from?" two Brazilian writers ask as we head out of the press conference.
"The United States."
They laugh. "We didn't think you were English," one says.
It's fun to stir the pot, even when it's a pot of Brazilian feijoada.