Kahn stands in way of Ronaldo and Co. as Brazil chases fifth title


The sensational “Three Rs” vs. unshakable O.K.

Today’s World Cup final between Brazil and Germany brings face to face probably the most talented strikeforce for years — Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho — against the top goalkeeper in the world — Oliver Kahn.

The Brazilian trio have scored 13 of their team’s 16 goals so far while Kahn hasn’t let one in for four games.

Something must give way at the Yokohama International stadium on Sunday as Brazil aims to stretch its record total of titles to five and Germany bids to tie Brazil’s current mark of four.

Amazingly, the two teams haven’t met in the World Cup even though they have now each reached the final a record seven times.

The hope is for a long overdue thrilling final and that really depends on how well the Brazilians can play.

“I see it as three stars against one star,” said Brazilian soccer great Pele, who won three World Cup medals. “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. Michael Ballack (who is suspended) will be a very big loss and a lot will fall on the shoulders of Kahn, who is a great ‘keeper.”

For Ronaldo in particular, this final is a big opportunity to make up for a dire performance against France four years ago when Brazil lost 3-0. Then age 21, Ronaldo woke up with convulsions and initially wasn’t on the starting lineup. Eventually he made the team but did little in a one sided loss.

Since then he has suffered badly with injury, needing two knee operations which kept him sidelined for two years. At last he’s showing signs of his pre-1998 form and leads the scorers list with six goals including a spectacular solo effort in the 1-0 semifinal victory over Turkey.

One goal behind come Rivaldo and German striker Miroslav Klose.

Barcelona star Rivaldo has scored some standout goals at this championship as well as showing flashes of his undoubted brilliance. But the Brazilian has also shown the other side to his character.

In Brazil’s opening game against Turkey, Hakan Unsal kicked the ball at Rivaldo and, although it bounced off his leg, the Brazilian collapsed, clutching his face. South Korean referee Kim Young Joo immediately issued Unsal a yellow card and, because it was Unsal’s second of the match, he was ejected and suspended.

The third of the Three Rs could be the best of all.

Ronaldinho starred in Brazil’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory over England, setting up an equalizer for Rivaldo and scoring with a 30 meter free kick before harshly getting sent off for a foul on Danny Mills.

As a result of the expulsion, he missed the semifinal victory over Turkey so has a lot to make up for in the final.

Supporting these three and attacking down the flanks will be two of the finest wing backs in world soccer. Real Madrid’s Roberto Carlos also has a power-packed left-footed free kick while the comparative veteran Cafu, Brazil’s captain, will be the first player in World Cup history to play in three finals in a row.

Brazil won the 1994 final against Italy on a penalty shootout after a 0-0 tie at Pasadena, California and then tumbled to France at the Stade de France four years later.

After the first round of group games, Brazil’s defense gained a reputation as being the team’s weak spot. But goalkeeper Marcos and his defenders performed brilliantly when the team was down to 10 men against England and gave Turkey only glimpses of a chance in the semifinal.

The German defense, however, has been consistent throughout.

After an 8-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia, it conceded its only goal of the tournament so far in injury time of a 1-1 tie with Ireland. Since then Germany beat Cameroon 2-0, Paraguay 1-0, the United States 1-0 and South Korea 1-0.

The last three games haven’t exactly been thrill-a-minute performances. But this is a German team which was in the depths of despair after a 5-1 loss at home to England 10 months ago forced it to reach the finals through the playoffs.

Coach Rudi Voeller also went into the finals without key players such as Sebastian Deisler, Jens Nowotny and Mehmet Scholl but has patched up a squad which is typically German.

Carsten Ramelow, usually a defensive midfielder, has been pushed back as the free defender while Thomas Linke and 21 year-old Christoph Metzelder will be the ones to keep Ronaldo and Rivaldo quiet.

Protecting the defense will be Dietmar Hamann and Jens Jeremies, who is likely to come into the starting lineup for the suspended Ballack.

Then come the attacking options and there aren’t many.

Despite his five goals, Klose hasn’t scored since the group games while wingbacks Torsten Frings and either Christian Ziege or Marco Bode will be breaking down the flanks with Bernd Schneider the attacking midfielder.

Germany will try and stifle the Brazilians by stopping the flow of passes towards their brilliant strikeforce and then catch the South Americans on the break.

If Rudi Voeller’s men are successful then Sunday’s game will join 1990, ‘94 and ‘98 on the list of disappointing finals. If the “Three Rs” break free, Brazil will capture its fifth title and maybe soccer will be the real winner.