SAITAMA, Japan, AP
The Brazilians have the stars, the flair and the experience. History and even the fans are on their side for today’s World Cup semifinal against Turkey.
But if anyone can derail Brazil’s plans for a fifth World Cup title, it’s probably the Turks.
Turkey already was trouble for Brazil in the first round, when the South Americans needed a controversial penalty call to eke out a 2-1 win. The Turks’ physical defense, tactical discipline and incisive counterstrikes are everything the free-wheeling Brazilians don’t like to face.
Now they’re back, and even tougher than before.
“Turkey has grown a lot since the first round,” said Brazil defender Edmilson. “We know we’ll face a different team than we saw before.”
Turkey struggled to qualify for the second round, then knocked out host Japan and tournament revelation Senegal. Steeled in battle, the Turks are confident and have nothing to lose.
“We have great morale, and with that morale I think the time is ripe for us to beat Brazil and add a new golden page to our history,” said defender Alpay Ozalan.
But the Brazilians also are riding high. Recovered from a disastrous qualifying round, they now are favored to add a fifth title to those they won in 1958, 1962, 1970 and 1994.
“I’m very concerned about Turkey, but I’m sure their concern with us is as great or greater,” said Roberto Carlos.
It’s been a long road to soccer respectability for Turkey, which hadn’t reached the World Cup since 1954. Recognition finally came in 2000, when Turkey reached the quarterfinals of the European Championship and Galatasaray, its top club, won the UEFA Cup crown.
And the Turks almost untracked Brazil in their World Cup opener. Just before halftime, striker Hasan Sas slipped through a chink in the defense and beat Marcos with a no angle shot for a 1-0 lead. It was late in the game when Ronaldo got the equalizer — and then things got nasty.
In the waning minutes, Luizao went down in the penalty area and South Korea’s Kim Young-Joo whistled a penalty on defender Alpay Ozalan, even though the foul appeared to be outside the box. Ozalan was ejected, and Rivaldo converted the shot to make it 2-1.
The Turks screamed larceny, but there was more to come.
Minutes later, Rivaldo went to take a corner kick and Hakan Unsal kicked the ball sharply at him, hitting his leg. But the Brazilian covered his face and collapsed on the pitch, and Unsal was sent off. Although FIFA warned Rivaldo about faking and fined him 11,500 Swiss francs (about US$7,000), the Turks weren’t satisfied — and vowed revenge.
Brazil captain Cafu admitted that Wednesday’s rematch has “something extra.”
“There was all that confusion, and that could have an influence,” he said.
But the Brazilians have plenty of weapons of their own. The feared “Three R” attack of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho have scored 12 of Brazil’s 15 goals. The defense, once considered Brazil’s weak link, jelled in a 2-1 quarterfinal win over England, and goalie Marcos was picked for the Cup all-star team.
Brazil even expects to have a home-field edge, thanks to the Brazilian stars who have played and coached in the J-league and formed a bond between the two countries.
“We know everyone prefers Brazil, and that gives us morale,” said Roberto Carlos. “Our confidence is enormous. The friendship we have off the field is carrying over to the pitch.”
However, the “Three Rs” will be down a letter or two against Turkey.
Ronaldinho was ejected in the last game for a foul on England’s Danny Mills and will sit out an automatic one-game suspension. Ronaldo complained of leg muscle pains and was substituted in the 70th minute against England, and he still hasn’t trained at full steam.
Juninho is expected to replace Ronaldinho, while Luizao is standing by in the unlikely event that Ronaldo doesn’t play.
Whatever the cast, Brazil is ready.
“There won’t be any change for me, I’ll play the same way,” said Rivaldo, tied with Ronaldo and Germany’s Miroslav Klose in the Cup scoring race with five goals.
“Our five victories weren’t by accident. We have nothing to prove. We just go out and play.”