Luis Fabiano, the Sevilla striker, had much to celebrate after Brazil beat Ivory Coast, making sure they qualified for the round of 16, even if some of his joy was due to the referee not spotting his use of his arms for one of his goals.

His daughter was celebrating her sixth birthday. After he had scored the first goal for Brazil, ending a 2010 goal drought extending five games, he held up six fingers to the sky to honour her special day.

But it was how he scored his and Brazil’s crucial second goal that provoked dismay. In the 50th minute, the Brazilian used his arm once to control the ball then again to lift it over a defender before volleying it home. But far from feeling remorse he could hardly stop smiling last night.

“Yes, the ball hit my hand”, he admitted, a huge grin covering his face, “not once but twice, but it was not intentional. It was such a splendid goal and what better place to score such a goal than in the World Cup? The goal was so beautiful it did not matter it was an unintentional handball.”

Back in the 1986 Mexico World Cup, Diego Maradona had justified his use of the hand against England by calling it the hand of God, although it was also seen as Argentina’s revenge for the Falklands. In Fabiano’s case, the defence of beauty to justify illegality was even more novel.

Interestingly though, these two illegal acts, in the football sense, had a symmetry if in inverse order. Maradona’s first goal had been followed by a sublime second when he beat nearly half the England team to score a goal that ranks as one of the greatest in the game.

Fabiano’s hand of beauty second goal had been preceded by a first that, if not quite as stunning, was Brazil as we all know and love. Robinho fed Fabiano, then at the edge of the Ivory Coast box Fabiano back heeled to Kaká who found Fabiano in space inside the box and he scored. And then, as if having demonstrated the game was beautiful, Fabiano decided he would show how the game could be manipulated to suit his needs just as Maradona had done.

Fabiano’s lack of guilt left the Ivory Coast players fuming, particularly with the French referee Stéphane Lannoy. Manchester City’s Kolo Touré could hardly believe his ears when he heard the unsighted Lannoy ask Fabiano whether he had handled the ball, “It was really bad that the referee asked him. He should have asked me.”

The African anger was all the greater because they felt the second goal was decisive.

As their manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson, put it, “2-0 changed the match. It opened the way for the third goal and while we scored one and could have got another, it is difficult enough to cope with Fabiano, but even more difficult when he is allowed to use his hands not once but twice.”

Eriksson was all the more upset because Dunga, his Brazilian opposite number, while shying away from any comments about the Fabiano goal, complained loudly about Lannoy’s refereeing which saw him give two yellows to Kaká. The second was issued for what looked like an innocuous collision between Kaká and Kader Keïta. This saw Keïta fall holding his face. This is only the third red the Real Madrid player has seen in his career and he will miss the final Group G match against Portugal. With Brazil having qualified for the round of 16, the result does not matter much, but it does mean Kaká, who is coming back to full fitness, cannot get the sort of match practise that would have been invaluable as the tournament goes into the knockout stages.

“When he got his first yellow,” said Dunga, “he was fouled and yet he got a yellow but the Ivory Coast player [Keïta] who committed the foul did not get a yellow card. I must congratulate the Ivory Coast player for fouling and still not receiving a yellow card. We are left in a bit of doubt, what do we have to do in order not to receive these yellow cards?”

The red card incident took place towards the end of the game with Brazil leading 3-1, Elano having added the third and Drogba a consolation goal for the Africans. It came after a series of incidents between two teams with the Ivory Coast players feeling provoked by Brazil’s show boating. After they had gone 3-1 up, Brazil felt the game was over and that they could teach these Africans a trick or two.

Eriksson’s response to all the Dunga bleating was to say Brazil should stop complaining and be happy that even without the help of unspotted use of hands, Brazil are the best team in the competition. “This Brazilian team can go all the way. They have the quality. It is difficult to beat them. They are strong and if you do make a mistake, as we did for our first and third goals, they punish you. If you play Brazil you must be perfect.”

Eriksson knows all about being beaten by Brazil, having suffered it as England manager in 2002, and compared this team to the one he met in Japan. The Swede said, “Both teams had a lot of quality. This one has four upfront – Kaká, Robinho, Fabiano and Elano. Then there is the right back Maicon – he comes like a train all the time. It is very hard to defend against him. They are also very organised in defence and it is not easy to make counter attacks against them.”

Ivory Coast has the slimmest chances of qualifying given the Portuguese demolition of North Korea. Touré is very conscious that the performance of the African teams in this tournament has been very disappointing, “It is a very bad reflection on Africa, but we lack experience. This is only our second time in a World Cup. We want to make Africa happy and to finish the tournament well for our country. We hope we have luck.”

The sort of luck Fabiano has could make all the difference. But that is asking for too much.


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