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   26 June, 2002 | 1915 IST


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Finally, the battle of the best

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Amberish K Diwanji

The world's two best football teams meet, for the first time ever in World Cup history, in the final .

Every game has its aristocrats, who completely dominate the game. In football, especially World Cup football, there are two giants: Brazil and Germany (or West Germany from 1954 to 1994), more so in the post-World War II era.

There are others, especially Italy and Argentina, who can be considered mighty nobles in the football world; but none can surpass the two giants of the game. Even if both have struggled through the qualifying rounds, they both seem to thrive in the World Cup tournaments.

Pele won the World Cup thrice while playing for Brazil Brazil have taken part in all the 17 World Cup tournaments so far, while Germany missed the 1930 and 1950 editions. In 1950, West Germany was barred for reasons that were political. Ironically, that tournament was held in Brazil!

Yet, unbelievably, they have never played a game against each other! One wonders if they were destined not to play each other until a special occasion, such as moving the World Cup tournament beyond either side of the Atlantic?

The following statistics show how the giants from South America and Europe have lorded over the World Cup tournaments:

For instance, since 1950 (post-World War II) either Brazil or Germany have always figured in the final, except in 1978. (In 1950, the final round was in a league format, but the last game was between Uruguay and Brazil, who were, in a sense, the finalists, since they ended up winner and runners-up respectively).

In 1978, though neither side made it even to the semi finals, it is widely believed, though not proven, that host nation Argentina bribed Peru to lose heavily against Argentina, thus allowing it to move into the next round at the expense of Brazil. Argentina had defeated Peru 6-0!

Strangely, before World War II, neither country reached the final in 1930, 1934, and 1938.

Not counting 2002, Brazil have reached six finals, winning four: 1958, 1962, 1970, and 1994; and were runners-up twice: 1950, 1998.

Franz Beckenbauer (with the Cup) , Germany's own genius Germany have also reached six finals: winning three: 1954, '74, '90; runners-up: '66, '82, '86. For both, 2002 is their seventh appearance in the final since 1950.

To give you an idea of their majesty over the tournament, Italy has appeared in five finals. But two of these were in 1934 and 1938. Since 1950, Italy has appeared in only three finals (winners in 1982, runners-up in 1970 and 1994).

Next comes Argentina, present in four finals. Again, the first was in the first World Cup in 1930. From 1950, Argentina has reached only three finals (winners in 1978 and 1986, runners-up in 1990).

That means, since 1950, Italy and Argentina have appeared in less than half the total number of finals, as compared to Germany and Brazil!

Other countries have reached the final even less often. Two-time finalists so far are: Uruguay (winners in 1930 and 1950); Czechoslovakia (runners-up in 1934 and 1962); Hungary (runners-up in 1938 and 1954); and Holland (runners-up in 1974 and 1978). The remaining countries to reach the final, all on home turf, are Sweden (runners-up 1958); England (winner 1966); and France (winner 1998).

While the 2002 World Cup is the 17th edition of the tournament, it is the 14th World Cup after World War II. Amazingly, the total number of appearances by Brazil and Germany in the final also equals 14!

So who will win?

The remarkable coincidence: World Cup winners have always hailed from the same continent as the venue. Thus, all-European country wins have come in Europe, all wins by a country from the American continents have come west of the Atlantic. The notable exception: Brazil's astounding maiden victory against Sweden, in Sweden, in 1958.

Brazil failed to repeat that feat in 1998.

Asia is a completely neutral ground, and, therefore, open to capture by either the South American giant or the European titan.

History, however, gives Brazil the edge. It has a better record in the final: four wins against Germany's three. And Brazil is the only country to win on the other side of the Atlantic.

Again, the World Cup has alternated between South America and Europe, with only two exceptions, one before World War II when Italy claimed the cup consecutively in 1934 and 1938, and post-WWII, when Brazil won in 1958 and 1962.

France won in 1998 Since it was Europe's France that lifted the World Cup in 1998, it would appear that now is the turn of South America's Brazil. Moreover, the next World Cup is to be held in Germany, which would imply a European country's turn in 2006.

Moreover, this is Brazil's third consecutive final after 1994, 1998, and they will be very keen to avenge their 1998 humiliation. Whereas, all through 1990s (except 1990), Germany has been struggling to find its form, till now.

And beyond history, the fact is that Germany will play the final without Michael Ballack, its scorer in the last two games, while for Brazil, Ronaldinho makes a return.

But, one factor is with the Germans: their amazing ability to rise to meet any challenge and surprise, even shock, the world.

Germany was never expected to go beyond the quarter-finals in this tournament, that they have done so only shows their deep prowess.

Sunday, June 30, will tell whether the South American aristocrat conquers across the Pacific, or whether the European aristocrat wins across the Eurasian heartland. Given the awesome record of the two giants of world football, certainly they hold the right to meet only in the final.


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