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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK

Coaches confound critics

By Paul Fletcher
BBC Sport Online

Two coaches who have defied the odds in guiding their respective teams to football's highest stage will go head to head in Yokohama on Sunday.

Luiz 'Big Phil' Scolari and Rudi Voeller were appointed within weeks of each other last summer.

Scolari was given the Brazil job with the team - unthinkably - on the verge of failing to qualify for the World Cup finals.

Rudi Voeller took the German coaching role reluctantly and with the national team at a low ebb following their early exit at the group stages of Euro 2000.

In this respect there is a clear similarity between the two men - both started their jobs at a difficult time for national teams boasting a long and illustrious football history.

And it could hardly be said that they were first-choice picks.

Scolari became Brazil's fourth manager in a disastrous 12-month period.

Voeller was handed the reigns on a short-term basis while the German FA waited for Christoph Daum to complete his tenure as manager at Bayer Leverkusen.

But soon after Voeller's appointment Daum was embroiled in a drugs scandal.

More by default than anything else Voeller - who had taken the German job with virtually no coaching experience - landed the position on a permanent basis.

Scolari, on the other hand, took over Brazil boasting a wealth of experience and a successful CV.

He had been the most successful domestic coach in Brazil throughout the nineties, guiding both Gremio and Palmeiras to the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League.

He had a reputation for building successful, robust teams and had once famously fined his players for not fouling the opponents often enough.

After his team lost a qualifier in Argentina last year he remarked that they had lost because they had not wasted enough time rolling around on the ground.

But after emerging from the quagmire of South American qualifying, Scolari has demonstrated his flexibility to confound his critics at the World Cup.

With his gifted forwards fit and in form - his team have stormed the World Cup with attacking play that has left the opposition clinging to their coat-tails.

Germany scraped through qualification and lost several key players in the months prior to the tournament.

But Voeller shrewdly took the pressure of his World Cup squad, telling the media that he was building a team ready to challenge seriously in 2006 when the World Cup is played in Germany.

And on the eve of the tournament Voeller said that he did not expect his team to win the World Cup.

But behind the facade of modest expectations Voeller has drilled his players hard - and they have responded by conceding just one goal at the finals.

His team may have had a lucky draw but Voeller has seemed at ease with the pressure of managing a top team in football's most high-profile tournament.

Voeller's team has exceeded expectations at the World Cup and the coach must take his share of credit.

Win or lose on Sunday, Voeller has gone a long way to demonstrating his skills as a coach.

Scolari's pedigree was known when he took over Brazil.

His contract expires on Sunday and he has already said that on Monday he will be unemployed.

But he too has confounded his critics and - like Voeller - will leave the World Cup with his reputation enhanced.

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