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Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2002

World Cup: Brazil reigns

June 30, 2002

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— Ronaldo, the world's greatest goal-scorer, capitalized on an error by the best goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, then scored again to lift Brazil to an unprecedented fifth World Cup title Sunday night, 2-0 over Germany.

Ronaldo, the brilliant prodigy who battled injuries for nearly two years, recaptured all of his stardom and more with a superb tournament that helped erase the bad memories of Brazil's loss in the 1998 final. He topped it off with the second goal on a wonderful passing play, becoming the first player in 32 years to get eight goals in one World Cup.

The Germans actually were controlling play, looking as adventurous as Brazil, until Ronaldo struck in the 67th minute. He stole the ball from Dietmar Hamann and fed his attacking partner, Rivaldo. The hard left-footed shot was stopped by Kahn, who was impenetrable for nearly the entire month.

But the ball ricocheted off Kahn's arms directly to Ronaldo, who touched it home with his right foot.

Ronaldo then put away Brazil's championship and tied Pele with 12 career World Cup goals on a low shot after Rivaldo cleverly allowed Kleberson's pass to roll through his legs.

Criticized before the tournament as one of the nation's weakest teams, Brazil's flair and individual genius carried it past Germany's cool efficiency. The nation that created "the beautiful game" used imagination and the unstoppable strikes of Ronaldo - plus some clutch goalkeeping by the unheralded Marcos.

The World Cup of upsets and upstarts ended with a logical champion. Oddly, it was the Brazilians' first World Cup game against the Germans, soccer's second most successful country with three world championships and seven final-game appearances, the same number as Brazil.

A minute before it was over, with every yellow-shirted Brazilian fan doing the samba at their seats, wingback Roberto Carlos simply lifted his arms toward the sky and saluted the crowd of 69,029. The gesture might have seemed slightly premature, but Germany had nothing left after Ronaldo's strikes and Marcos' two late diving saves.

Every Brazilian player ran onto the field carrying a flag or draped in one. Marcos kneeled in the net, his body covered with his country's green, blue and gold flag, as coach Luiz Felipe Scolari ran to hug him.

At the other end of the field, Kahn sat forlornly against a goalpost, watching the South Americans celebrate another crown in the world's most popular sport.

Each Brazilian player, coach and official knelt down in a circle holding hands just before captain Cafu accepted the trophy.

As he held it aloft, fireworks and streamers flew from the stage while his teammates bounced up and down in a sea of silver confetti. Thousands of flashbulbs went off as the first World Cup staged in Asia ended in a much more satisfying way for Brazil and Ronaldo, who had convulsions before the 1998 final and played poorly in a 3-0 loss to host France.

The Germans, who barely challenged Brazil's net in the first 45 minutes, twice came within inches of taking the lead early in the second half.

Jens Jeremies' header was blocked by the defense seconds into the half, then Oliver Neuville's blistering free kick barely was touched by Marcos, sending it off the goalpost and out of play. Dietmar Hamman had loads of space for his right-footed shot that sailed just high in the 57th minute.

It was a huge contrast to the Germans' defensive tactics in the opening half. No one expected them to open up the game against high-scoring Brazil.

Then suddenly, it all fell apart for Germany, which has lost in three of the last six finals.

Brazil got back midfielder Ronaldinho, the hero of its victory over England in the quarterfinals who missed the semifinal win over Turkey because of a red card. Germany was without a key part of its midfield, Michael Ballack, who scored the winning goals against the United States in the quarterfinals and South Korea in the semis.

Ronaldinho made the first spectacular play of the game, springing Ronaldo with a perfect pass in the 19th minute. But Ronaldo's left-footed shot trickled just wide.

Ronaldinho was at it again with a gorgeous chip into the penalty area for Ronaldo in the 30th minute, but the tournament's leading scorer managed only a weak touch that Kahn fell on.

Marcos' first test came seconds later when he had to punch out a header off a corner kick.

The Germans' first-half strategy was clear: Play taut defense and kick the ball back to Kahn whenever pressed by the faster Brazilians. When the opportunity arose, they'd cross the ball into Brazil's box, hoping for a goal on a header that would allow them to fall back into a defensive shell.

By slowing the pace, the Germans believed they could make Brazil impatient.

But late in the half, Brazil came excruciatingly close twice.

Kleberson's hard shot from just outside the area clipped the crossbar. On the final play of the half, Ronaldo's left-footed drive from 12 yards was kick-saved by Kahn.

But the German goalkeeper couldn't keep Ronaldo off the scoreboard forever. And Germany couldn't keep Brazil from its championship.

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