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   June 23, 2002 | 1205 IST


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Brazil, Germany match gets nearer

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Brazil and Germany, the two most successful World Cup nations, are just two semi-finals away from ending the remarkable sequence of events which has prevented them from ever playing each other in the finals.

The World Cup's phantom match will take place in the final in Yokohama on Sunday only if Germany get past resilient co-hosts South Korea and Brazil beat Turkey in the semi-finals on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

That Brazil have never met Germany in the finals is one of the great curiosities of soccer. Brazil have played in all 17 finals and Germany in 15. Both have appeared six times in the final itself, Brazil winning four and Germany three.

The two have played more matches than any other nations in the final -- Brazil's semi-final will be their 86th game, Germany's their 84th.

Yet somehow, like two ships passing in the night, they have never run into each other.

There has never been a World Cup Pele v Franz Beckenbauer, a Socrates v Karl-Heinz Rummenigge or a Romario v Lothar Matthaeus?

Even in this tournament, the draw once again conspired to keep them apart, ensuing they could only meet if both reached the final.

They have been close a number of times. In 1958 a Brazil v West Germany final seemed on the cards before hosts Sweden upset the Germans in the semi-finals.

Twelve years later in Mexico, it again looked to be a Brazil v West Germany final when Gerd Mueller put the Germans 2-1 up in extra time of the semi-final with Italy. But the Italians fought back memorably to win 4-3.

In 1974, both countries looked set to end up in the same second round group. But West Germany astonishingly lost their final first round group game to neighbours East Germany and ended up in a different section.

Brazil did at least play the East Germans that year and beat them 1-0, the nearest they have come to meeting a full German team in the World Cup.


Only seven countries have won the World Cup -- Argentina, England, France, Italy and Uruguay are the others -- and there have been World Cup meetings between all of them, except for the phantom Brazil v Germany fixture.

In fact, all of them have met at least twice apart from England v Italy and France v Uruguay, which has only cropped up once in each case.

Argentina, who played and lost to England in Japan earlier in this tournament, have met the English five times in the World Cup and also met Italy in five consecutive finals tournaments. They have played Brazil four times too.

In total they have played 22 World Cup matches against the six other World Cup winners. Italy have played 21 such fixtures and Germany have been involved in 18, one more than Brazil.

So can it be Ronaldo v Michael Ballack this time?

Given the surprises these finals have seen so far, it would be rash to bet on it.

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