YOKOHAMA, Japan, AP
It took half a century to happen, but this World Cup final could be worth the wait. Brazil and Germany meet Sunday for the first time ever in soccer’s biggest event, a fitting stage for a clash spiced by 50 years of anticipation.
There’s something for everyone in this classic matchup of contrasting styles and strengths: The No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense, Ronaldo vs. Oliver Kahn, artistry vs. discipline, Latin heat vs. European cool.
“Germany is a traditional team, cold, calculating, a three-time champion,” said Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. “We respect them deeply.
“It will be a great game, a historic game,” he said.
All the two really have in common is success.
Brazil and Germany have dominated the sport since World War II, reaching the title match in 12 of the past 13 Cups. The only exception was in 1978, when host Argentina defeated the Netherlands.
Brazil won the tournament in 1958, ‘62, ‘70 and ‘94, while the Germans triumphed in ‘54, ‘74 and ‘90.
This time, however, they share something else. Both struggled in qualifying and came to the Cup with discredited teams that many thought would get knocked out early.
Brazil lost an unheard-of six games, changed coaches three times and didn’t guarantee a spot until its final game with Venezuela.
The Germans also flirted with elimination but beat the Ukraine in a playoff.
Still, while pre Cup favorites France, Argentina, England and Italy went home early, Brazil and Germany grew as the tournament went along.
Brazil’s “Three R” attack — Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho — clicked right away. The three have 13 of the team’s tournament-leading 16 goals and are among the nominees for the Golden Ball award for the Cup’s most valuable player.
Ronaldo laid to rest the doubts about the sturdiness of his right knee, rebuilt in surgery that kept him away from the pitch for nearly two years. The two-time FIFA Player of the Year leads all scorers with six goals, including the game-winner in Brazil’s 1-0 win over Turkey in the semifinal.
“We’re going to come right at them, but with respect,” he said.
Rivaldo, relieved of his playmaking chores, has blossomed as a scorer and is tied with Germany’s Miroslav Klose with five goals. Ronaldinho, the hero of Brazil’s epic 2-1 win over England, returns after a one-game suspension.
With veteran wingbacks Cafu and Roberto Carlos charging the flanks, Brazil has an arsenal unmatched at the Cup.
“The Germans don’t have to stop only one player. They have to take care of four good Brazilian players,” said Carlos Alberto Parreira, who coached Brazil to a record fourth World Cup title in 1994.
Even the defense, traditionally Brazil’s weak link, has jelled in the knockout round. The back line shut down England while playing with 10 for most of the second half, and ‘keeper Marcos has three shutouts in six games.
“Since the beginning of the Cup we’ve been criticized,” said defender Lucio, who plays for Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen. “It’s good to get compliments, but our goal is to be champions.”
To do it, they’ll have to go through goalkeeper Kahn, who has yielded just one goal in six matches.
“Undoubtedly Kahn is the best goalie in the World Cup and will be the main obstacle for Brazil,” Rivaldo admitted.
The Bayern Munich ‘keeper is not overly impressed with the three Rs.
“They are truly exceptional, but for me it’s nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.
“They still have to show they can beat me,” he said.
For Germany, the doubts are about its front line.
After an 8-0 spree against Saudi Arabia in its opening game, the offense has struggled. And the team will be without star midfielder Michael Ballack, suspended with two yellow cards.
Coach Rudi Voeller says the key is to stop Brazil’s lightning counterattacks.
“We have to play with a lot of order and discipline,” he said.
Brazil hopes to abort the German air game, then let Ronaldo and Co. hit them with the unexpected.
“I want Brazil to match Germany in determination. Then the players will make the difference,” said Scolari.
After decades of sidestepping, the time has come for a showdown.
Scolari recalled when he met Voeller in December at the World Cup draw in Seoul, South Korea.
“We both had the rope around our neck,” he said. “We said: ‘Who knows? Maybe we’ll see each other again in the final’.
“When we meet, we’ll embrace and remember that time.”