Originally created 07/10/98

Soccer with flair in the World Cup final



PARIS -- The stonewalling soccer of the last two World Cup finals should yield to free-form play this time. How refreshing that would be.

Brazil attacks. France attacks.

Brazil runs the flanks. France goes wide, too.

Brazil penetrates quickly through the middle. Ditto for the French.

"Brazil-France. The sound alone is already beautiful," said French defender Lilian Thuram, who scored both goals in the semifinal win over Croatia. "This final is such a dream and it can lead us to something beyond that."

Yes, it could lead France to its first world championship. Or it could lead Brazil to its fifth; nobody else has more than three.

"The penta," Brazil coach Mario Zagallo said, referring to the Portuguese equivalent of one for the thumb. "We are one victory away."

What will it take for the favored Brazilians to get it? Or for the host French?

Brazil isn't likely to change much of anything at Stade de France on Sunday. Certainly, it would like to score more than the one goal it got against the Netherlands in the semifinals. And that is a possibility, because France doesn't have the strong midfield the Dutch possess, meaning the Brazilians should control the ball.

"They haven't faced a team with a strong attack," Zagallo noted quite accurately of French opponents South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Italy -- which can press on offense, but didn't bother to in the quarterfinals -- and Croatia.

"France plays offensively. It's the team that has shot more than any in the Cup. So it pays a price on defense," Zagallo said.

When a Brazilian midfielder has the ball on his foot, he almost always is in position to attack. The creativity of Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and Cesar Sampaio has been demonstrated time and again when the opponent doesn't play in a defensive shell.

France figures to be more cautious than the Netherlands. It won't play man-to-man defense as the Dutch did, particularly with key inside defender Laurent Blanc suspended.

But the French won't lay back and say, `Come and get us.' It isn't their style, and it wouldn't go over very well with the 76,000 fans in the stands -- or the millions more watching on television throughout the nation.

"Sometimes we don't need to have too much respect. We have a culture of victory now," Thuram said.

When France attacks, it will build around playmakers Zinedine Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff. They must find the same routes through the Brazilian back line that the Netherlands' Patrick Kluivert did in the semifinals.

The prospect of a wide-open final is delicious, particularly after the last two World Cup finals. In 1990, West Germany outlasted Argentina 1-0, winning on a penalty kick by Andreas Brehme with six minutes to go. That capped an uninspiring tournament of conservative strategy, especially by the Argentines, who seemed to play for shootouts.

Four years ago, there was far more dancing in the stands by Brazil's fans than by its players on the field. Italy played defensively, rarely seeking openings. Brazil also played nervously, appearing content to settle into a cautious mode, too.

The game was scoreless, decided in a shootout. Not a classic way to end a World Cup.

The two finalists haven't been conservative at France 98. Now is not the time to change.

So the French figure to go forward.

"We can move mountains," coach Aime Jacquet said. "Anything can happen."

And the Brazilians figure to do so, too.

"We have a history of it in World Cups," midfielder Leonardo said. "And that gives us a lot of support."