Brazil’s 2002 vintage among the greats


YOKOHAMA, Japan, AFP

Brazil were back on top of the footballing world on Monday as their most impressive team for 20 years celebrated a record fifth World Cup title.

Not since the 1982 side of Zico, Socrates and Falcao has a Brazilian team captured the world’s imagination as completely as coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s 2002 vintage.

Though Brazil last won the World Cup in 1994, that succcess was viewed as a victory for pragmatism. But in Japan and South Korea the accent was on flair and it ensured Brazil will be remembered as popular champions.

In the fleet-footed Ronaldinho, an electrifying figure when running full tilt at opposition defenses, and Golden Boot winner Ronaldo, Brazil had the two players of the tournament.

Still only 22, Ronaldinho has plenty more World Cups to look forward to, as does the 25-year-old Ronaldo, provided his injury-ravaged frame can last through to the 2006 World Cup.

Ronaldo’s eight goals in seven matches saw him take his World Cup tally to 12, equalling that of his hero Pele. It also consigned to history the disaster of 1998, when he suffered a fit before the final but played anyway as Brazil suffered a traumatic loss.

For the moment Ronaldo is happy to bask in the personal and collective glory of Sunday’s win but was already talking about new targets soon after Brazil’s win, with Gerd Muller’s all-time record of 14 World Cup goals in his sights.

“None of what I have achieved would have been possible without the team. It is a team achievement,” Ronaldo said. “I am going to celebrate a lot, and I know that new objectives, new goals are going to come. I am a very ambitious person and I will go for it.”

The daunting prospect for Brazil’s opponents to contemplate is that many of the 2002 side should still be around to defend their title in four years time.

While Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Rivaldo will be well into their 30s by then, most of the team which scored a 2-0 win over Germany on Sunday will be just coming into their prime.

The increasingly impressive defensive trio of Roque Junior, Edmilson and Lucio, will all be under 30, as will midfielders Kleberson and Gilberto Silva.

There is also a fair amount of talent that didn’t even make the squad – Arsenal’s Edu, Bayer Leverkusen’s Ze Roberto and Real Madrid’s Savio just three left languishing at home.

And even more encouragingly for Brazil, a new generation is on the way up with the exciting 20-year-old Kaka, who played as a substitute here spearheading the crop.

But just who will be in charge of Brazil, assuming they qualify for Germany, in four years time is anyone’s guess.

The 53-year-old Scolari has already said he will step down, having achieved what looked like a mission improbable after taking over a Brazilian side in chaos just over a year ago.

“When the tournament finishes the squad will split up and my contribution will be over like my contract,” he said. “It is something I had already agreed with the federation.”