Australia 2 - Brazil 2

At 79,795 it was just a bus-load or two shy of a capacity crowd which crammed in to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday night to watch Australia draw 2-2 with Brazil in the second of the two-match series against the South American glamour side.

Were Australia to have won the match - which for long periods of the contest seemed the more likely outcome - not one spectator present would have thought it undeserved.

Despite the vastness of the crowd, it was subdued for most of the game. Maybe coming as guests, as all did in this open-doors game, they felt less comfortable about getting passionately involved. Maybe they thought that were they to do so, their presence would be discovered and the doorman would be around with a request for admission money.

But as Australia took a 2-0 lead and then the visitors scrambled two late goals to draw level, spectators' involvement intensified, especially for those who saw in the unfolding of these events, a story that had been played out at this very ground almost exactly two years prior.

The deja vu was enhanced by the Socceroo's barnstorming start and by the unwelcome and concentration-breaking invasion of the pitch by a spectator as Australia was pressing to advance the lead from two goals to a game-deciding three.

But it wasn't the auguries that conspired to create the result, nor was it a cosmic rewind; it was the inspired introduction of Brazil's first-game stars as late second-half substitutes by Brazil coach Wanderley Luxemburgo which turned the game.

Ronaldinho, Alex, and Fabio Junior re-invigorated the Brazil attack, which had become stale and had run out of ideas, expertly held at bay by a confident Australian back-line comprising the experienced trio of Craig Moore, Tony Vidmar, and Kevin Muscat, joined this game by Steve Laybutt who has made an impressive start at national team level. But with Brazil's fresh players coming on to confront a now tiring defence, the holes were quickly created and exploited.

Denilson, who had been marked out of the Sydney match by a tenacious Muscat, and had accordingly been disinclined to show-off his much-vaunted dribbling skills for fear of the attentions of Muscat in the tackle, now found he could exert his influence, which proved critical to Brazil's attainment of both goals.

The fact that the crowd would have left disappointed in the result was a tribute to how much this Australian side had improved since the first game, despite the off-field and tangential issues an unfair media used to cast doubt on the worthiness of this national selection. Australia would not have been flattered by a win, nor a decisive win either - for most of the match it had been they, rather than their more fancied opponents who had the greater range of footballing skills, and the higher level of football awareness.

This Australian selection put together moves of skill and precision, and combined that with the solid, no-nonsense defence which had so clearly rattled the Brazilians in the first match. So it was no bunch of cloggers that were wearing our national strip.

This midfield combined with greater fluidity than in Sydney, perhaps because in Melbourne, new captain Paul Okon was the clear focus of most creative play, whereas in Sydney, the pairing of Okon with his play-making team-mate - the now poutingly retired Ned Zelic - had seemed to produce a sum less than its constituent parts.

It's no state secret that neither Okon nor Zelic have much time for each other off the park, and mutually and pointedly ignore each other's presence, even for the normal courtesies exchanged between colleagues. This personal breakdown wasn't so obvious on the park, but perhaps was affecting team play. Now with Zelic seemingly out of the picture - although most fans would rather he reconsider his hasty decision - it may be that the absence of this distraction will allow a better team focus, even if the absence of Zelic's undoubtedly sublime skills will be mourned.

And it was a bad game for Zelic to miss - the fact that the team on the night did not miss him is just one more chapter in the book of the team being greater than the player.

It's a fact that we hope our idols have none of the vices and personality quirks that affect all humans, and we are saddened when we discover they do, as in Zelic's response to new coach Frank Farina's preferring of Okon as captain to Zelic, in the absence of injured and returned-home goalkeeper Mark Bosnich.

It is the same response we have to the national team commitment levels of Harry Kewell - we want him to put his interests aside in favour of those which would have him a regular Socceroo.

Zelic and Kewell may well have dealt themselves out of Farina's further attentions, as those called into the team as a consequence of their absence - notably domestic-based Marconi captain Brad Maloney who, along with Paul Trimboli, is surely the best player never to have played for a club overseas - shone in Melbourne taking up a role Kewell may have hoped would be reserved for him.

Danny Tiatto once again showed he could be an indispensable part of the team, and tirelessly gave width down the left wing, never shirking his defensive responsibilities when required to bolster the back. In Melbourne, he was slightly less effective at passing his man than in Sydney, perhaps because he'd been analysed by Brazil as being a little one-footed - preferring to pass on the left of his marker, and being uncomfortable when trying the inside route. But any team needs a player as committed as Tiatto - small in stature he may be, but he dodges no conflict, and is now more controlled and thus less likely to be the first in the referee's book. In this match, he did get cautioned, but in added time after the regulation ninety minutes had elapsed.

Goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac is another whose national team claims have been enhanced during this series. In Sydney he had a small amount of game-time, coming on as a late substitute for the injured Mark Bosnich - but in Melbourne the whole game was his.

Kalac is a very tall man, and uses his height well. Less usually for a tall man, he is also a good shot-stopper low down, several times relying on this attribute to keep the Brazilians at bay. On one occasion, mid-way through the first half, his clearance went badly astray and gave Brazil's Warley a direct run and shot on goal. Kalac made up for his error, first by getting smartly down to block, then gathering the ball before the on-rushing Warley arrived. He acknowledged his culpability, and steeled himself not to repeat the mistake.

Perhaps Kalac's decision-making in both Brazil goals could be faulted, but goalkeepers always have the game's hardest decisions to make, and suffer the greatest obvious punishment for those that are even marginally wrong. Kalac might have been able to deal with both balls earlier in their flight before the ultimate headers that gained Brazil their goals, but he would correctly say that playing the game on paper is always easier than playing it in and around the six-yard box.

So we have the basis of a very good Australian team - the combination of Viduka and Agostino is a pairing of two strong players with excellent close control and a desire for the direct path to the goal. Not for a while has a national team looked more consistently dangerous in attack, confident in defence, and creative in midfield. Maybe this will be the subject of some discussion between Agostino and Zelic in the dressing-rooms of their club, 1860 Munich, during the remainder of this Bundesliga season.

For the record Agostino scored with a powerful header with a mere eleven minutes having elapsed after Muscat had reached the bye-line and then found Viduka with his back to goal inside the penalty-area and with a Brazilian defender preventing the big striker from turning. Viduka chose instead to juggle the ball, then send it over his head to where Agostino powered home the game's opener.

Australia stretched its lead after a sustained period of pressure which had the Brazilian defence reeling. Just moments before, Agostino had singed Alexandre's fingers with a free-kick that rocketed its way goalwards, and even despite the touch, still crashed off the bar. From the resultant corner, swung in by Maloney, Agostino bundled the ball over the line from close-in at the near post.

With fifteen minutes remaining, and with the game's balance tipping Brazil's way as a result of the introduction over a frenetic four minute period of five fresh players from the bench, Denilson's ability with the ball at his feet finally paid off. An obviously one-footed player, Denilson didn't allow this handicap to prevent him sending over a whipped cross from the left wing into the goal area with his left foot as he ran parallel with the front of the penalty-area, where it fell for Ronaldinho at the far post after clipping Moore who contested the ball with Alex on the way through. Ronaldinho's header was a regulation chance at this level of the game.

As minds recalled the World Cup elimination game of 1997, it was as if the crowd accepted the inevitability of Brazil's equaliser four minutes from time. Once again it was a goal aerially-delivered. Ronaldinho had been at the heart of it, earning a free-kick after a bewildering spin which deceived his markers only to be fouled. The Australian defence could only ever half-clear the ball and Ronaldinho again gathered and sent a ball into the box where Fabio Junior outjumped Moore, by now exhausted from his marking endeavours, to head past Kalac.

Perhaps the draw was a better result for Australia in the longer term, as it may mean future opponents don't do enough research, and, as a consequence, find themselves very much under-estimating the enormous and obvious potential of this Australian team.

written by Alan Clark