Brazil banking on Ronaldo

By Bill George, Yokohama

By Bill George, Yokohama

THE story of this World Cup - South Korea’s extravagant exploits aside - must surely be Ronaldo’s.

And if the great centre-forward maintains his run in Yokohama’s huge bowl of a stadium tomorrow, then Brazil will extend their winning record in the championship to five.

There were 777 games played in qualifying tournaments before the World Cup final tournament kicked off in Seoul a month ago. Yet, after all that action, after all that excitement and drama, after all that heartache, the story of one young man standing on the threshold of history epitomises the glory of sport and the grandeur of the World Cup.

Ronaldo, still only 25, will surely recall tomorrow the nightmare of the final of four years ago in the elegant Stade de France. Then he was first left out of the team, only to be included at the last moment.

And after suffering an illness the night before, his involvement was ineffective.

That was but a prelude to the troubled years that followed. He took no part in Brazil’s 18 qualifying games, and the decision to select him in the squad ahead of the veteran but still lethal Romario was widely questioned.

Now Ronaldo has all the appearances of a man who has been reborn and Brazil have thrived on his involvement. They won six matches on the trot in these finals and Ronaldo scored six goals, failing to hit the target only in the quarter-final against England.

Any doubts that Ronaldo was not firmly on the road to fulfilling the rich promise he showed as a youngster when he worked with Bobby Robson at Eindhoven in Holland were dismissed with that marvellous strike against Turkey in the semi-final.

Sure, it was described in newspaper reports as a 'toe-poke', but that was a misnomer for a goal that was the hallmark of a great finisher.

Ronaldo struck the ball right-footed at the end of his stride, fooling a very capable goalkeeper in Rustu by hitting it when the goalkeeper was expecting him to plant his foot in order to strike with his left.

This was not just luck, this was the act of a man who has studied goal-scoring and what it takes to beat a good goalkeeper. Romario has the same gift and both will score more regularly than Rivaldo, for instance, who is the scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer.

The presence of both Ronaldo and Rivaldo in the Brazilian team and their capacity for goals spells trouble for Germany, for all their formidable defensive strength. And Brazil showed against Turkey the continuing improvement in the scope and effect of their football that has been evident from the start of this championship.

Results breed confidence and confidence encourages spectacle. Germany will not want a spectacle.

They will try and keep it tight and controlled, their faith invested in the extraordinary even balance of their team-work. Their defensive solidarity against South Korea was exemplary and hugely impressive.

But now Michael Ballack is missing and they are robbed of some of their creative force. He is a goalscorer and a provider - remember his pass to Miroslav Klose to embarrass the Irish - and he is a major loss.

It is a huge disappointment to him to miss the final but he wins no sympathy here.

There is something unacceptable about newspaper headlines that described his cynical foul on Korea’s Lee Chun Soo in such terms as - 'Ballack foul inspirational for Germany.'

He cheated and deserved more harsh treatment from the referee than the mere yellow card that players routinely earn when they fractionally mis-time an attempted tackle.

Much was made before this tournament of the absence of several of Germany’s established internationals - Sebastian Deisler, Mehmet Scholl, Jens Nowotny and Christian Worns - and, indeed, Nowotny played in all 10 of their pre-qualifying matches.

But manager Rudi Voeller has developed a team that is compact and efficient and entertaining too.

It is fashionable to describe the Germans as dour and un-enterprising, but that is less than justified.

nyone who was not so biased would have seen plenty to enthuse over in their defeat of South Korea; the manner in which they ran their opponents around the pitch with good positional play and accurate passing, the way they kept South Korea off-balance with surprising attacks through the middle by centre-backs Thomas Linke and Carsten Ramelow.

It is remarkable that Germany and Brazil have never met before in the finals, and their meeting now is certain to set a whole series of new World Cup records.

A win for Brazil without having to go through the process of a shoot-out would ensure that they set the best record of all - five wins in the Championship and the first team ever to win the Cup by winning seven consecutive matches at the finals.

The great 1970 side of Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, Tostao won six games to take the trophy in Mexico.

They played one game less than Ronaldo’s team by going through to the quarter-finals from the

first phase.

Brazil will, I expect, succeed but whether they can beat the best goalkeeper in the world in Oliver Kahn and a defence that is as formidable as Fort Knox without having to play extended time is

debatable.

It is a fascinating final for it offers a wonderful contrast in styles between two outstanding and thoroughly professional teams.

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