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Jun 19, 2006

The magicians' assistants

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Before the World Cup began the weight of expectation, not to mention the eyes of the world, were firmly on Brazil's so called magic quartet of Kaka, Ronaldo, Adriano and Ronaldinho Gaucho.

But after two games in which they have struggled to show the form that made them the red hot favourites to take the trophy, it is another much less celebrated fab four that have been the standout performers for the defending champions.

Centre-backs Lucio and Juan and holding midfielders Ze Roberto and Emerson have been, along with Kaka and Dida, Brazil's best performers so far and have proven that Brazil can contain as well as create.

Juan has hardly put a foot wrong in either of the two matches and his partner Lucio has remained solid. In front of them, Emerson has played a captain's role and Ze Roberto turned in a such a stellar performance against Australia that he carried off FIFA's 'man of the match' award.

Their performances have prompted even members of the famous four in front of them to ask fans to pay them more attention

'Let's not talk about the magic quartet but the whole team,' said Kaka. 'You can't separate the attack from the defence, the four from the rest. I think we marked very well against Australia, Ze (Roberto) won the player of the match award and had a great game.'

Ze Roberto's contribution was crucial in helping Brazil to their fourth consecutive World Cup clean sheet. On two occasions in the second half he chased back to win sliding tackles that robbed first Mile Sterjovski and then Marco Bresciano of golden chances to cancel out Adriano's 49th minute opener. Behind him, both Lucio nor Juan went the whole match without commiting a single foul.

According to the marks out of ten given to players in top selling newspapers Lance and Folha de Sao Paulo, only Dida and Kaka have performed better during the first two games.

The opposition was hardly top notch and no one is suggesting good performances from the four will be enough to take Brazil all the way to the title. All four will face tougher tests when they come up against more experienced rivals once the knock-out phase begins.

You can't separate the attack from the defence, the four from the rest.
Kaka

But few Brazilians are even giving the unsung heroes credit now. All four have been largely overlooked by Brazilian fans obsessed by creative playmakers and goalscorers, not holding midfielders or solid centre halves. All eyes here are on the big-name, attack-minded players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho Gaucho, Kaka and Robinho.

Perhaps not surprisingly, all four defensive team-mates seem happy for things to stay that way. All of them are unassuming characters and with the possible exception of Emerson, who as captain has joined the team's elder statesman Cafu as the player the debutants and youngsters look up to, they are happy to blend into the background and let the media focus on their more celebrated team-mates.

But their lack of recognition is also because, outside of international duty, Brazilian fans have little opportunity to see them in action. Lucio and Ze Roberto play for Bayern Munich, a side who for all their tradition rarely makes it onto Brazilian TV screens, even in their Champions League matches.

Juan is with unfashionable Bayer Leverkusen and although Emerson has a slightly higher profile at Juventus, like many of those midfielders Brazilians call 'piano carriers' his work often goes unnoticed.

If they keep playing to the standard they set in the first two games they will be hard to ignore. Unless the magic quartet start to turn it on. Either way will be just fine for the other fab four.

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