Memorable climax to mediocre CupPosted: Tuesday July 09, 2002 5:43 AM
In passing it might also be said that this was arguably the best final since 1986, even if the Germans had little business to be there. 1990 was a horror, a brutal business in Rome between Germany and Argentina, decided by a dubious spot kick. 1994 was a bore, a 0-0 draw in Pasadena between Brazil and Italy, scandalously decided on penalties. 1998 was overshadowed by Ronaldo's saga and rather too one-sided to be exciting.
Brazil would hardly have won the World Cup without Ronaldo, who can put those four dreadful years behind him. The 1998 Final when he should never have been allowed to stay on in that almost comatose dangerously vulnerable state. The intervening years, in which one serious injury after another put him out of the game and threatened his career.
His first full match for Brazil in this World Cup, which I witnessed, was that against Costa Rica when, from the first, he showed that he was once a more a dazzling menace to any defense.
Yet in the final itself, it did seem for a time that the ghost of the 1998 final was haunting him. That ghastly miss when the effervescent little Ronaldinho put him through. A second miss, when usually one would have expected him to score. A fine save from the ultimately doomed Oliver Kahn when he did seem close to scoring. Yet the first Brazilian goal, whatever Kahn's fearful blunder -- alas poor goalkeepers; David Seaman too had blundered after some fine displays -- was so much his. Winning the ball from a careless Dietmar Hamann in a manner any midfield terrier would have envied. Finding Rivaldo, then carrying on to score with ease after Kahn had fumbled the ball.
KAHN was voted best keeper of the tournament, presumably before the final took place. I suggest there were two stronger contenders. First, big Brad Friedel who made save after glorious save for the United States, against Portugal, South Korea, against two penalties. Remarkably agile for so large a man.
Then there was the brave and daring Turkish keeper, Reber Rustu, who soldiered his way through that dramatic third place match against South Korea despite carrying a painful injury.
Turkey indeed emerged as one of the happier surprises of this largely pedestrian tournament which is bad news for England who must meet them in the incipient European Championship qualifiers. Mansiz Ilhan had every right to say that he should have been starting games rather than coming on always till that third place game as a substitute.
Leading scorer in the last Turkish Championship with Besiktas, with 21 goals in 28 games, he scored a splendid goal against Senegal in the quarterfinals, two more in the third place match, while making that sensational one in 11 seconds for Hakan Sukur, who clearly enjoyed playing alongside him.
BRAZIL'S victory was the triumph of what Italians call the fantasists over the prosaic exponents of realpolitik. The Brazilian manager, Big Phil Scolari, being, ironically enough, very much one of them.
When I saw the Costa Rican game, the 5-2 win which could have been 7-5, it delighted me to see that despite Scolari's dour preference for negative, even abrasive, football, for fouls carefully committed outside the box, the three Rs, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo, were simply too exuberant to be contained.
Just as well considering what a fragile defense the Brazilians deployed: even if that dreary England team couldn't contrive a single shot on target against it when Brazil was reduced to 10 men for 32 minutes of that disappointing game... for England.
THE RUMORS rumble on about South Korea. Were referees, even a linesman, suborned? As one who spent years investigating the Italian corruption of European referees and after the Lobo-Solti affair, I can say only that, at present, the case is Not Proven, the old Scottish verdict.
That several crucial decisions were utterly wrong is beyond doubt. To go from there to prove, first that they were made in bad faith, secondly that bribery was involved, are two very long and difficult steps.
How odd to reflect that when a far worse decision than any of these, Diego Maradona's Hand of God goal against England at the Azteca in 1986 was scored, no one accused the inept officials of corruption. Nor did the England players smash up their dressing room like Francesco Totti and the infantile Italians after they'd lost the Koreans.
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