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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Cup cries out for fitting finale
Edmilson scores with an overhead kick against Costa Rica
There have been great goals but few great games

World Cup finals are seldom engrossing affairs for the neutral; pomp and ceremony and the weight of the occasion tend to squeeze the life out of the football contest.

And if any World Cup needed a goal-laden blockbuster of a match, this one does.

After a first week rammed with shock results, talk in the pubs and bars was of the best competition in living memory.

Open Quote
The excitement at this World Cup has come not from a succession of great games but from the success of the underdog
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But all that actually happened was that the tournament was upside down.

In previous World Cups, the first round has been nothing more than a collective clearing of the throat. The big boys ease through, the minnows flatter to deceive and no-one really takes much notice.

Come the second round and some meaningful contests, the battles begin in earnest.

Four years ago in France the quarter-finals served up Holland against Argentina, Italy v France, Germany v Croatia and Brazil v Denmark.

It made up for having to sit through a dull first round which featured Yugoslavia stumbling past Iran 1-0 and Colombia thrashing Tunisia by the same thrilling scoreline.

This time around we had the reverse.

After the excitement of seeing favourites France and Argentina go crashing out, Italy scrape through and Portugal fall flat on their faces, enthusiasm was rampant for the knockout stages.

What did we get? A quarter-final line-up of Senegal v Turkey, Germany v USA and South Korea v Spain.

Germany celebrate their progression to the World Cup final
Do Germany really deserve to win the World Cup?

Only Brazil v England shaped up as a true World Cup classic, and even that disappointed.

The excitement at this World Cup has come not from a succession of great games but from the success of the underdog.

The games you enjoyed as a neutral were good to watch because they produced the unexpected.

Senegal beating France, South Korea coming back to beat Italy on a golden goal - wonderful results for sure, but not wonderful games in themselves.

This World Cup shot its bolt too early.

Brazil certainly have it in them to lift the mood. If Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho start stroking it around as they can, we'll be up for the Cup in the blink of an eye.

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Hope this time around rides with Brazil's unusual mix of inspiration and defensive naivety
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But their partners in the final tumble could just as well do the opposite.

Watching Germany nick successive games 1-0 has left all but their own fans limp with lack of interest.

Even in years where the football has been of a high standard all the way through, the final itself has often failed to deliver.

In Pasadena eight years ago Brazil and Italy, having lit up the tournament en route to the Rose Bowl, fought out a phoney war for 120 minutes, happy to take their chances in a penalty shoot-out.

The semi-final dramas at Italia 90, where both the hosts and England failed gloriously after extra time and spot-kicks, were sadly not repeated in a dismal final that saw an average West Germany beat a cynical Argentina by dint of a dubious penalty.

South Korea celebrate beating Spain on penalties
South Korea's success gave the neutral something to cheer

Hope this time around rides with Brazil's unusual mix of inspiration and defensive naivety.

Rudi Voeller's Germany have neither the personnel nor desire to play the sort of open, attacking football that would leave the crowd in Yokohama breathless.

An early Brazil goal would force them out of the shell they have occupied ever since thumping Saudi Arabia and provide a real test of Voeller's tactical skills.

Just pray it isn't locked at 0-0 at half-time, for then Germany will sense their sterile scheme could bear fruit, while Brazil's fear of final defeat could - as in 1994 - stifle their natural flair.


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