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   June 27, 2002 | 1640 IST


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Finalists share redemption road

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Mitch Phillips

Nine months ago any thoughts Brazil and Germany were having about the World Cup did not involve a possible meeting in the final but whether they would even qualify for the tournament.

In the space of five September days, Germany suffered their worst ever qualifying result when they were thrashed 5-1 at home by England while Brazil went down 2-1 to arch-rivals Argentina.

With only a few qualifying games remaining, the two most consistent countries in World Cup history were both in real danger of missing out.

The idea of their absence from the finals seemed inconceivable. Brazil are the only team to have played in every tournament since the first in 1930 while Germany's only absences came in 1930, when they opted not to take part, and 1950 when they were banned by FIFA.

However, it looked even more ominous for Brazil when they suffered a humiliating defeat in November -- 3-1 to Bolivia.

Incredibly, it meant they had lost six qualifiers -- after losing just one in all their previous campaigns put together -- and only Colombia's slump kept them in the fight.


They eventually secured their place in the finals with a 3-0 win over Venezuela in their final game, finishing just three points ahead of the non-qualifying Colombians.

The feeble campaign was accompanied by stunning defeats to the likes of South Korea, Australia and Honduras and it would have been a long search to find anyone suggesting the South Americans would be on the brink of a fifth World title a few months later.

On the other side of the world, Germany were in similar disarray.

Following their first-round elimination from the 2000 European championships, the England defeat rocked what had been a solid World Cup qualifying campaign.

A failure to beat Finland in their final game condemned them to a play-off against Ukraine -- a tie described by coach Rudi Voeller as the most pressurised he had ever been involved with in his entire playing and managerial career.

It proved the turning point for his previously-ridiculed team as they secured a 1-1 draw in Kiev and impressively won the return 4-1 to take their place in the finals.

The bookmakers remained unimpressed by either country, however, with Germany attracting their longest odds for years at 14-1 and perennial favourites Brazil ranked behind France, Argentina and Italy and even behind Spain and England by some oddsmen.

Franz Beckenbauer, who the World Cup as a player and coach, said that it was the first time that Germany had sent a team to the tournament with no chance of winning it while three-times winner Pele predicted his countrymen would struggle to reach the semi-finals.

But as all the favourites fell, Brazil and Germany steadily went about their work in a businesslike manner.

Both have developed a real team spirit, the players saying their qualifying problems helping them bond, and despite one or two scares they have arrived in the final relatively untroubled.

Voeller and Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari handled the constant criticism with dignity and have a developed a mutual respect after both resurrecting their countries' chances.

Scolari said after Wednesday's 1-0 semi-final victory over Turkey that he was looking forward to reacquainting himself with his opposite number in far more favourable circumstances than when they last met at the World Cup draw last December.

"When we met at the draw, we both had the rope around our necks," said the man known as "Big Phil".

"We both had difficulty qualifying and both reached the finals at the last moment.

"We hugged each other and told each other that maybe we would meet in the final."

"I am sure we will hug each other again then."

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