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   June 27, 2002 | 1445 IST


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A perfectly ironic finale

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In some ways Sunday's final between Brazil and Germany represents the perfect ending to the first World Cup in Asia.

In another way it could hardly be more ironic.

Almost incredibly, the two nations who between them have won the World Cup seven times have never met before in the finals.

Brazil boast the best World Cup record of all with four wins and two defeats from their previous six final appearances.

Like Brazil, the Germans will be appearing in their seventh final having won three and lost three of their previous six.

In a historical sense at least, the final stamps this World Cup tournament with an authenticity that may have been lost if South Korea and Turkey had made it through at their expense.

Without disrespect to either, the world wants to see a clash of the titans. In a soccer sense, this is one battle that has taken far too long to be realised.

South Korea and Turkey have covered themselves in glory by reaching the last four for the first time and Saturday's third place match in Taegu is likely to be the most fiercely contested play-off for years. The Koreans will see to that.

But the heavyweight bout in Yokohama needed to be between the heavyweights themselves -- especially after the trauma the tournament has gone through in the last week or so since first Italy, and then Spain, were eliminated by South Korea due largely to controversial refereeing decisions.

But there is one big irony under-pinning Sunday's showdown. Neither Brazil nor Germany, despite their long, glorious histories, ever expected to get so far.


Both countries -- unusually -- struggled to reach the finals.

In the past both have switched on the cruise control button and motored smoothly through whatever obstacles came their way.

But Brazil needed victory in their 18th and last qualifying match against Venezuela to book their place in the finals. Germany, beaten 5-1 at home by England just nine months ago, had to manoeuvre their way past Ukraine in the European play-offs after finishing second in their qualifying group.

But put Brazil and Germany into the context of the World Cup and they usually shake off their ailments.

Germany have reached the final conceding just one goal. Brazil have won six matches on the trot. Despite some critics in their own countries moaning that today's teams pale into insignificance compared to the giants of the past, the point is irrelevant now.

Both have reached the final. That is all that matters. Bad teams do not do that.


Brazil showed in their 1-0 victory over Turkey on Wednesday that the fierce criticism they have endured is unjustified.

It is unlikely that any team anywhere in the world will come along in the foreseeable future and match the great Brazilian side of Pele, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and Rivelino of 1970 -- the burden all generations of Brazilian players must carry.

German sides too will always be judged by the team Franz Beckenbauer led to victory in 1974. Scorers like Gerd Mueller are not born every day -- or even every decade.

But Brazil proved against Turkey they still possess the flair and the innate ball skills to thwart even the most determined and disciplined of opponents.

Although goalkeeper Marcos had to make several important saves -- one outstanding one from Turkey skipper Hakan Sukur in the second half in particular -- the back four of Cafu, Roque Junior, Lucio and Edmilson were far more disciplined than they were two weeks ago.

Gilberto Silva and Kleberson added the bite in midfield that was missing and Ronaldo and Rivaldo can turn a match in a moment.

Ronaldo might have had some luck with his toe-poke that eluded the otherwise outstanding Rustu Recber for the winner after 49 minutes -- but he deserved it.

He fought tirelessly, has now gone one clear at the top of the scorers list with six goals and has scored 43 goals in 62 matches for his country.

He is now eager to wipe away the nightmare of the 1998 final when he was taken ill. The stage is set for him to shine.


Turkey go out of the World Cup with new-found respect. They came close to scoring on occasions and with luck could even have won the game themselves.

In the end they were beaten by Brazil for the second time in the tournament after losing 2-1 in the opening round. But they were never disgraced.

So history will be made on Sunday. Either Germany will emulate the Brazil side of 1958 as the only other team to win the World Cup outside their own continent -- or this Brazilian side will equal their own record.

Brazil will win an unprecedented fifth world title or Germany will equal Brazil's record of four wins and captain Cafu will become the first player to play in three World Cup finals.

It has been a World Cup of surprises. Perhaps the final is the biggest surprise of all.

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