JOHANNESBURG // In the so-called "Group of Death", there was never much doubt who would play the part of the meanest assassins. Last night Brazil gave both a swaggering demonstration of why they remain among the very top favourites with a dominant display against Ivory Coast. Any celebrations, though will be tempered by the suspension of Kaka, who was sent off for jutting an elbow into the chest of Kader Keita.
Kaka had already been booked for pushing Yaya Toure. It had been a physical contest, and the rest of the World Cup will note with trepidation not only two or three excellent attacking moves from Brazil but that the South Americans also won most physical duels, and against a West African side who are short neither of muscle or height. Brazil were better all round. Dunga, Brazil's head coach, kept the same team that had beaten North Korea five nights earlier.
Sven-Goran Eriksson, his counterpart, made one change to the starting XI that drew with Portugal in Ivory Coast's opening game of Group G. It was an easy, and heavily predicted one, not least by Eriksson himself: the Swede had wanted Brazil to know that Didier Drogba, who had surgery on his elbow 10 days before the beginning of the World Cup, would be ready to take his place in the initial XI. So Drogba did, with the inventive Gervinho sacrificed and Salomon Kalou and Aruna Dindane asked to flank the returning Ivorian captain.
The risk was that Drogba would look ginger in his challenges, for all that his wound is protected by a cast, or that he might look rusty. Certainly, his radar was a little askew as he struck an early free-kick, some 25 yards from Brazil's goal: it ballooned high into the grandstand, as, at the other end, did a volley from Robinho. It has become second-nature at this tournament to ascribe wayward efforts to the notorious Jabulani ball. Sometimes the players are at fault, too. Brazil overcame that first, and they took the lead in the 25th minute thanks to two players whose decisive contributions would be keenly appreciated by the participants.
Kaka has had to bear criticism for his ordinary club season with Real Madrid. Luis Fabiano has been under a little scrutiny for not scoring the number of goals, at least lately, expected of a Brazil centre-forward. Cue Kaka's short, but beautifully weighted pass to Luis Fabiano, who rifled a fierce, angled drive past Boubacar Barry. There followed an ominous demonstration of keep-ball by the Brazilians, unapologetic about showing off a capacity to hold a lead. As they passed the ball back and forth, square across the defence, or from midfielder to midfielder, a few whistlers in the 80,000-odd crowd reminded the five-time world champions that part of their purpose here is to entertain.
Soon after the interval, Brazil demonstrated how they can build on an advantage and entertain. Luis Fabiano's second goal was more soloist, more scrappy and blessed with a bit of luck. Leaping with Siaka Tiene to reach a high ball, he appeared to use hand. Challenged by Didier Zokora, there seemed another contact with his lower arm. He then controlled it well with a legitimate limb, his foot, and volleyed home.
Just after the hour, Brazil sealed the outcome. Kaka, growing in influence and having just ushered in a Robinho shot - saved by Barry - with a neat stepover, then crossed, left to right, to give an unmarked Elano a straightforward finish. Drogba pulled a goal back, a slightly mistimed header from a deep Yaya Toure cross, but, with only 11 minutes left, Dunga's assassins were not going to supply any more generous gifts. email@example.com Man of the match Luis Fabiano (Brazil)