Clash of soccer continents

Classic, yet novel. Long awaited, yet totally unpredicted.

Yesterday's World Cup final between Germany and Brazil proved an entirely fitting end for a remarkable tournament that upset the experts right from the start.

Brazil's 2-0 victory showcased the talents of Ronaldo, who led the tournament with eight goals, and won the Golden Boot, the award given to the Cup's top scorer.

This was an epic encounter in every sense, pitting the two most successful nations in the history of the game against each other. Brazil, the flamboyant kings of South American football, had previously won the World Cup four times. Germany, the perennial powerhouse of Europe, had one less championship, but appeared in the final a record six times.

Even though they had competed together in 14 of the 16 tournaments since the start of the World Cup in 1930, they had never previously played against one another on soccer's greatest stage.

Yet nobody predicted this would be the tournament where Germany and Brazil would break that strange streak here in Yokohama International stadium.

Four weeks ago, the two soccer giants were looking more like pygmies.

After struggling to qualify – they were the last two of the 32 nations to book their place at the finals – the media in both countries called for the dismissals of the two coaches – Rudi Voeller of Germany and Luiz Felipe Scolari of Brazil.

Germany's low point came 10 months ago: A 5-1 loss at home to England.

"Those were the hardest days in my career. I had never been under so much pressure," said Mr. Voeller, a former star striker for the national team. "But that's when the team grew together, when we created this spirit we have, and when we showed that we are able to produce under pressure."

The greatest teams grow during a tournament and peak when it matters most. So it proved yesterday in an intriguing clash of styles: the most resilient defense in the world against the deadliest attacking force.

In the six games leading up to the final, fortress Germany had conceded only one goal, while the Brazilian side lived up to the spirit of the "jogo bonito" (beautiful game) by scoring more than any other team – 16 goals, including some breathtaking free kicks and moments of individual skill.

On one side stood the fearsomely craggy German goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn – nicknamed the "human wall" – while the other boasted the goofy but mesmerizingly talented Brazilian top scorer, Ronaldo who had a point to prove after his mysterious breakdown in the dressing room before the last world cup final, which his team lost 3-0 to France.

Before the game, Brazilian soccer legend Pele, who won three World Cups with Brazil, remarked: "I see it as three stars against one star. Brazil has the best attack, no doubt. Ronaldo is playing very well alongside Rivaldo and Ronaldinho and has recovered from his injuries. The last two games he has played very well. Germany has defended very, very well and is well organized, as usual. But they don't have individual players as good as Brazil."

Of course, there was always more to the two sides than their stereotypes. A far from robotic Germany had drilled eight goals past Saudi Arabia in their opening game, and in striker Miroslav Klose, they had a fine source of firepower.

Brazil, too, had been as ruthlessly cunning as beautifully stylish. Rivaldo's plaudits for scoring five goals have been mixed with criticism over his feigning injuries to waste time and have opposition players dismissed. The midfield maestro, Ronaldinho – one of the best players of the tournament – showed both his beauty and his "beast" sides in the quarterfinal against England, when he was sent off for stomping on an opposition defender shortly after scoring a long and stunning free kick.

In the event, however, it was Ronaldo who cracked the human wall, after Kahn mishandled a shot in the 67th minute from Rivaldo, which rebounded to Ronaldo, who flicked it into the net. Kahn had successfully foiled Ronaldo twice in the first half. Ronaldo's second goal came in the 79th minute, after he found himself open on the edge of the penalty area and had time to drive a shot past a Kahn. This was Brazil's night, with the crowd delighting in the quick feet of Ronaldo and the thrilling near misses by both teams.

All in all, this was a fitting spectacle to end the first World Cup finals ever to be staged in Asia. But it was also more exciting than previous finals. This has been true of the tournament as a whole, where the formbook has been turned on its head as tired Europe-based players have struggled to adapt to the unusually humid conditions of a northeast Asian rainy season, while those from other leagues have prospered.

But off the field, World Cup organizers FIFA – which broke into a feud on the eve of the tournament – are still wracked by divisions and financial problems. The co-hosts, Japan and South Korea, will also be paying the bill for the 20 new stadiums – many of which will rarely be used again – for years to come.

Only a short time after its loss, Germany was already preparing for redemption. German defender Christoph Metzelder said the team had one thing on its mind: hosting the next World Cup. "From tomorrow, Germany are going to concentrate on just one goal: The 2006 World Cup."

• Material from The Associated Press was used in the report.

Tops and flops of World Cup
Winners

Underdogs: From the opening match when Senegal beat reigning champion France, to the battle between South Korea and Turkey for the third place and the United States' valiant run to the quarterfinals, nobody anticipated the upsets.

Chung Mong-joon: Reports in the local press suggest that the South Korean vice-president of FIFA may use the success of the event as a springboard for a bid to become president of South Korea in December.

Scalpers: Touts asking up to five times the face value of tickets (tickets were twice as expensive as those at the 1998 World Cup) despite FIFA promises to crack down.

Losers

Favorites: The reigning champion, France, was knocked out after failing to score a single goal in its three group-round matches. Argentina, Portugal, and Italy also exited early.

Byrom: The British ticketing company was blamed for a mix-up that left thousands of seats empty at opening games and lost millions of dollars of potential revenue.

Linesmen: A series of high-profile blunders – many of which benefited South Korea – led to accusations of corruption by those who lost, such as Italy and Spain.

Hooligans: Thanks to draconian new laws and a 7,000- strong Japanese security force, hooligans were not a factor.

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