Rejuvenation of Brazil awaiting one final fling
BRAZIL 1; TURKEY 0 Matt Dickinson AND so, after the uprising of the minnows, the 2002 World Cup will finish with a superpower summit between the most successful nations in the history of the game.
It will be said that the old order has been restored, but it is not that simple. A month ago, a final between Brazil and Germany would have seemed just as ridiculous as South Korea reaching the semi-finals or France losing to Senegal.
Both staggered to the Far East, but perhaps the traumas of qualification were the making of them.
That which did not kill them the 5-1 humiliation by England in Germany's case and unprecedented defeats by Ecuador, Paraguay and Chile for Brazil made them stronger and they have overcome the scepticism of their own supporters and pity from the rest of the world.
They deserve credit for their resilience, but it says little for their rivals that they allowed such fragile sides to reconstruct themselves at this tournament. This is where the cracks should have been exposed, but Germany, in particular, have been allowed to advance without serious challenge.
At least Brazil have brought style to the party, although yesterday it was a toe-poke rather than a wondrous piece of skill that took them through to their third final in a row.
It was Ronaldo's sixth goal of the finals and there cannot be a lover of football at least outside Bavaria who does not want to see the striker find the net again on Sunday to exorcise the demons of four years ago.
A World Cup final should be about more than one man, but that was barely the case in 1998 when he suffered a seizure the night before the match against France and spent the hours up to kick-off undergoing tests in hospital.
"I don't feel I have any need to explain the last two years of suffering which I have been through," stated Ronaldo.
"But I have to say the nightmare is now over. Every time I take to the pitch, for me it is an honour and a joy, and every goal I score is a victory.
"Now, in helping Brazil to the final, it is my aim to continue such happiness. It is a final in which I plan to score the most important goal of my career."
Ronanldo leads the golden boot competition with six after yesterday's 49th-minute finish when, in the wake of a counter-attacking dash down the left by Gilberto Silva, he picked up the ball and, with a two-footed shimmy, burst into the Turkey penalty area. His shot could barely have been less stylish, but perhaps that was what fooled Rustu Recber as his stabbed shot bobbled past the goalkeeper.
In all likelihood, Ronaldo can now only be caught by Miroslav Klose, the Germany striker who has not added to his first-phase tally of five, or Rivaldo, whose selfishness in the last 20 minutes yesterday suggested that he has made the golden boot a higher priority than winning matches.
The Barcelona forward's wastefulness was contagious as Kleberson, Luizao and Edilson all made poor decisions when they should have settled their nerves by adding to Ronaldo's goal.
They would have regretted it had Turkey managed to scramble an equaliser, but, apart from one hooked volley from Hakan Sukur and a wayward header by Ilhan Mansiz, Brazil defended almost as impressively as they had against England when reduced to ten men.
Ronaldinho's dismissal in the quarter-final forced him to watch from the bench yesterday and Brazil missed one of the few stars of the tournament. Edilson looked clumsy in comparison and, apart from some long-range strikes by Rivaldo, many of the best chances fell to Brazil's rampaging full backs. Roberto Carlos and Cafu troubled Turkey down the flanks and their only blemish was a failure to score when well-placed.
After the bitterness of their match in the first phase, when Turkey had two players dismissed and Rivaldo indulged in shameful play-acting, there was mercifully little confrontation, except for one fracas when Bulent Korkmaz clashed with Ronaldo.
"We fell together to the floor and after we both got up he stepped on me then hit me with his fist on my head," the Brazil striker said. "That made me very angry. That was why I reacted."
That burst of temper apart, Brazil were mostly in control of themselves and the game, although Turkey attacked dangerously enough to convince England that, if they are favourites to win their European Championship qualification group, it is only because of tradition and reputation. In Yildiray Basturk, Hasan Sas and Emre Belozoglu, Turkey have players who can trouble the England defence.
But they could not do enough to breach Brazil and the world will cheer for the South Americans against a Germany side so stereotyped that they might be pantomime villains. Brazil should create at least a few chances in Yokohama and, with forwards of this calibre, they will take at least one.
Only one World Cup final since the war the 1978 duel between Argentina and Holland has not featured Brazil or Germany/West Germany and Sunday's match pitches the four-times winners from South America against a country that has won it three times.
It sounds like an ancient rivalry, except for the small detail that, in competitive fixtures, they have never met.
It is a remarkable statistic, given that they have played a total of 171 matches at World Cup finals.
The surprise is that they should find themselves on the same pitch in a year when they might have expected it least of all. The Times, London.