By Bill George
THE delicious sense of vindication that was a powerful undercurrent to Brazil’s uninhibited celebration of yesterday’s tumultuous World Cup success was of special significance for a special player.
Ronaldo’s tearful, emotional release on the shoulder of a colleague at the final whistle was a moment so memorable that it will forever be etched in history.
Ronaldo, the prodigy, had finally and gloriously reached maturity — exit the boy, enter the man. His tears were not just tears of joy, they were more, much more than that. They were, at one and the same time, an out-pouring of
relief, an expression of accomplishment and the lancing of a boil that has been festering for four long years.
Now, at last, the agony of the Stade de France and the ghoulish happenings of that awful day for Brazil marked him as unique. Now, at last, Ronaldo and Brazil are once again in their rightful positions as champions.
Of course the final will not be listed as a classic, not in the same class as the 1970 final, the remarkable 1978 final, the Maradona spectacular of 1986.
But for me it was every bit as good, every bit as fascinating and absorbing, for it lacked only the infusion of an early goal to give it that special, indefinable flavour of greatness.
There were very good reasons too, while the game did not produce that early Brazilian goal that would have provided the inspiration. For Germany were, once again, immense; their defence seemingly impregnable. Of course it is easy to dwell on the game’s finer moments, on those incidents that made it beautiful, on those individual acts of extravagance that caused your heart to skip and your pulse to pound. There was one early one from Rivaldo, a succession of brilliant saves from Kahn, an extraordinary sleight of foot from Denilson in a captivating cameo right at the death and, of course, that wondrous second goal.
It came, decisively, after 79 minutes, a goal of such style and elegance that it established irrefutably Brazil’s right to the title, their championship pedigree.
Ronaldo took it from 12 yards with all the glee of a child leaping into a warm swimming pool. But the build-up was memorable with Kleberson driving through Germany’s outer cover before clipping the ball low across the face of the goal. Rivaldo stepped over it to leave Linke helpless and offer Ronaldo a target he could not miss.
It was brilliant, quite the most devastating move of the match and it pinpointed graphically the essential difference between the teams. For while Germany enjoyed more possession than Brazil, 56%, and maintained pressure for long periods especially early in the game, they lacked an incisive striker.
An effective finisher would surely have won this match for Germany especially in the opening half-hour. But for all their magnificent defensive work, for all their clever and accurate approach play, for all their strength and confidence, Germany suffered for the want of a Muller, a Klinsmann, a Voller or yes, a Ronaldo.
He showed how lethal he can be when, sadly, one of the great figures of this World Cup made his one critical error in seven matches. Rivaldo, so eclipsed by Germany’s lethal tackling that he was anonymous, played a critical role. He took possession from Ronaldo 22 yards our after the centre-forward had robbed Hamann and a trademark left-foot strike squirmed out of Kahn’s grasp. As the goalkeeper scrambled to recover, Ronaldo was there to knock the ball home.
Kahn again chose the big stage to produce another superb performance and he did not deserve to lose, never mind commit the error that broke the teams apart. His lightning reaction to deny Ronaldo after 29 minutes was only bettered when he kept out with his feet a firmer Ronaldo effort on the call of half-time.
Kleberson hit the crossbar, Neuville had a blistering free from 30 yards touched onto an upright as Marcos went full-length after 48 minutes and a match that was ruled by two defences was never short of action.
Through it all, however, Brazil’s stern defence stood manfully to defy repeated waves of German attacks and their persistence paid off when the strikers finally got it right. The growing certainty in Brazil’s play always promised a decisive strike and so it came to pass, brilliantly and memorably.
So this first meeting in the World Cup of the game’s two most compelling powers lived up to its billing and a glut of records were created. Perhaps the most worthy was that of Brazil’s inspirational captain Cafu, who became the first man in history to play in three consecutive finals.
Brazil became the first championship side to win seven consecutive matches on their way to the title but Cafu, such a genuine and skilful player, deserved top billing for his personal landmark — an achievement that even the great Pele could not match. Yes, it was that good.
BRAZIL (4-3-4): Marcos; Lucio, Edmilson, Roque Junior; Cafu, Kleberson, Gilberto Silva, Roberto Carlos; Ronaldinho (Juninho 84), Ronaldo (Denilson 89), Rivaldo.
SCORERS: Ronaldo 68, 79
GERMANY (4-4-2): Kahn; Frings, Linke, Ramelow, Metzelder; Schneider, Hamann, Jeremies (Asamoah 76),Bode (Ziege 83); Klose (Bierhoff 73), Neuville.
Referee: P. Collina (Italy).