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Opposites to meet in unlikely Cup final

Offensive Brazil and defensive Germany were not expected to play for soccer's biggest prize.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 30, 2002

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Familiarity, at last.

After all of the upsets, bickering about the refs and conspiracy theories, today's World Cup final is what most of the world would have predicted when it began:

South America vs. Europe.

What is surprising is it's Brazil vs. Germany.

Most analysts picked some combination of Argentina, France, Italy and Spain to reach the final.

Brazil and Germany have the proper lineage. The Brazilians have won four Cups and the Germans three. One of the two teams has been involved in 12 of the past 13 finals though they've never played each other.

But these were considered substandard Brazilian and German teams.

The scouting report on Germany was nobody but goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was world-class, the defenders were slow and soft and the midfield had no playmakers.

Brazil? Suspect goalkeeper, weak defense, needs Romario and Ronaldo's knees won't hold up.

Both teams had humiliating losses during qualifying. Germany lost 5-1 to England. Brazil lost to Bolivia and Chile, both Cup nonqualifiers.

Both also qualified late. Germany needed a victory over Ukraine. Brazil needed a victory over Venezuela.

Germany is missing four injured starters. Brazil is missing popular forward Romario, whom coach coach Luiz Felipe Scolari refused to put on the roster even though he averaged more than a goal per game for Vasco da Gama.

Scolari said Friday he didn't believe Romario would fit on a team in which forwards are expected to help on defense.

"I think it has been proved that my choice was correct," Scolari said.

Both teams have proved skeptics wrong. Brazil is 6-0 with 16 goals. Germany is 5-0-1 with one goal allowed.

Some have argued Germany had an easy road to the final. Its past three victories were over Paraguay, the United States and South Korea. Brazil had to defeat Belgium, England and Turkey.

However, the bottom line is Germany won the games it needed to win. It doesn't have flair, but it has organization, a superb goalkeeper and a potent air attack. Thus far, that has been enough.

"Four months ago, nobody would have thought that these two teams would make the final," Brazilian legend Pele said. "However, for me, the two strongest teams are here. This will be a match of attackers vs. the defense as Brazil has the best scorers and Germany has the best defenders."

In other words, Technicolor meets black and white. Creative meets calculating.

The challenge for Germany is neutralizing Brazil's "Three R" attack, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, who returns from a one-game suspension.

Ronaldo, who has scored a tournament-leading six goals, is not 100 percent, but an 80 percent Ronaldo is one of the best forwards in the world. Ronaldinho provided two of the most spectacular highlights of this tournament against England, and the trio has scored 13 goals.

The Germans also must be mindful of runs by Cafu and left-sided shots from Roberto Carlos.

That would be a hard enough task at full strength. But Germany will be without its most reliable midfielder, Michael Ballack, who is suspended because of two yellow cards.

Ballack has three goals, two of them winners. He likely will be replaced by Dietmar Hamann. Jens Jeremies, a dogged defender, will move into Hamann's spot at center midfield.

"Brazil is probably the best team in the world in terms of individual players with exceptional people in every position," Kahn said. "But the team with the the most gifted players does not always win.

His coach, Rudi Voeller, agreed.

"If the best team always won the World Cup," he said, "then Brazil would have won it 14 times, not just four."

The key to beating Brazil, Voeller said, is discipline.

"Plenty of order and discipline are required," Voeller said. "We must switch to the attacking mode but do it carefully because Brazil has players capable of using any opportunity to counterattack.

"In terms of individual players, they have more class than we have, but that's not something to be ashamed of. All the other teams are in the same situation when compared to Brazil."

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