Originally created 06/29/02

Finalists found unity in time



YOKOHAMA, Japan - Facing humiliation, Germany and Brazil began winning soccer games.

They haven't stopped since.

On Sunday, the two most successful nations in World Cup history meet for the title. The Brazilians own an unprecedented four, the Germans have three. Both are in the championship game for a record seventh time. Yet both struggled just to qualify for the tournament.

That may not be a coincidence.

"For me," said Pele, who led Brazil to its first three crowns, "the two strongest teams are here."

The Germans finished with a 5-1-2 mark in European qualifying, but the numbers were deceiving. They lost 5-1 to England at home and tied Finland 0-0 in the final two group games, forcing them to win a home-and-home playoff with Ukraine.

"Nobody really expected us to even go to the round of 16," said coach Rudi Voeller, a former star striker for the national team. "Those were the hardest days in my career. I had never been under so much pressure.

"But that's when the team grew together, when we created this spirit we have and when we showed that we are able to produce under pressure."

Brazil was a 6-1 shot to win on May 31 - long odds for the perennial South American powerhouse.

What wasn't apparent then, as the brutal 18-game South American qualifying tournament drew to a close, was whether this team could play as a unit.

Usually Brazil dominates its continental qualifying. But with many players unavailable for practices because of injury or club commitments - and with dissension rampant among those who showed up - the Brazilians were upset by Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador.

At one point, they lost four of seven qualifiers. The nadir was a 2-0 loss to Honduras in last year's Copa America, after which Brazil fell to second, then third in FIFA's world rankings. It was the first time since 1994 Brazil wasn't No. 1.

Heading into their final game last November, the Brazilians needed to beat Venezuela to assure a spot in the World Cup. They won 3-0, but the storm surrounding coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's side didn't subside until Brazil made its run through the bracket, first in South Korea, and then Japan.

"Our team is reasonable to good," Scolari said. "It's no marvel, but we're competitive."

Competitive enough to be 6-0 at the World Cup, the only perfect mark.