It is remarkable that having been at 17 previous World Cups together today will be only the second meeting between Germany and Brazil at one. A little less striking, perhaps, was the time they met – the 2002 final in Yokohama where a side then, as now, managed by Felipe Scolari, and starring Ronaldo, survived a difficult opening spell to win 2-0.
That tournament bore more than a passing resemblance to this one with the holders (France), crashing out early and another big name (Argentina) also making a group stage exit; Costa Rica won themselves some admirers as did the United States. Most significantly, though, there were no really great teams and neither Germany nor Brazil had been especially fancied to go all the way to the final.
They did it in starkly contrasting fashions. The Germans, defended firmly and conceded just once (to Robbie Keane) on their way through six group and knockout games. The Brazilians scored 16 times as they made the same journey thanks to an array of attacking talent that also included Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.
The South Americans looked a good bet to make it seven out of seven and German coach Rudi Völler wasn’t helped by the loss of Michael Ballack, who had been outstanding in several games, through suspension.
Ballack had played a key support role to an attack led by Miroslav Klose. He was still a young striker who, barely a year after breaking into the national team, had made quite an impact by scoring five headed goals in the finals.
In his absence Didi Hamann carried a great deal of the responsibility in midfield and his side started well, unsettling the Brazilians with Lucio, Roque Junior and Edmilson reduced for a spell to simply hoofing the ball away.
Had Völler’s men scored then, it might have been a very different contest but their finishing was generally poor, And when it wasn’t, as when Oliver Neuville was on target with a well struck free 10 minutes before the break, Marcos did well, helping Brazil to survive the storm.
Scolari’s side struggled to turn the tide, though, and his wing backs, Cafu and Roberto Carlos, could contribute little out wide as they battled to contain Marco Bode and Torsten Frings. Still, the Brazilians did rather better when their own chance for a breakthrough eventually came 23 minutes from time when Oliver Kahn, after a superb tournament and a very good game, made a bad mistake. The goalkeeper failed to control a straightforward Rivaldo shot with the ball falling nicely for Ronaldo who had made his luck by anticipating the opportunity.
The victory was copper-fastened 12 minutes later when Kleberson’s low cross was left by Rivaldo for Ronaldo to make it eight goals in seven games with a side-footed shot.
For the Brazilian striker, the goals and the victory they earned were the redemption he must have craved after the disappointment of the 1998 final when his own frailty had, it seemed, been exposed when he needed to perform on the game’s biggest stage. The striker was certainly unable to contain his emotions through the closing stages.
For Kahn, there was devastation at the end with the goalkeeper distraught that his error had been decisive.
Both were amongst the few outstanding individuals in teams that while good were not great. That Brazil team, though, was strong and skillful enough to ensure it would go down in history as one that won a world title. Various German ones have been trying to do as much ever since and they’ll see this as their best opportunity since that night in Yokohama.