Football / World Cup USA '94: Brazil's continental drift: Ian Ridley explains how European football will gain whatever the outcome is today

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(First Edition)

ITALY today seek to become the first European nation to win the World Cup outside their own continent but whether they succeed or not, Europe will welcome 'home' the World Cup winners.

The Italians, of course, do not need to leave the confines of their own country, so lucrative is their league. By contrast, 10 of the 12 Brazilians who played in the semi-final against Sweden - including the left-back Branco, who has returned to Fluminense after a spell with Genoa - have had to take the well-travelled route from Rio de Janeiro to escape inflation-plagued, corruption-riddled South American football. The others, the Palmeiras pair of Mazinho and Zinho, will surely go in the same direction soon.

Two - the goalkeeper Taffarel and the defender Aldair - are at present with Italian clubs, while Dunga has recently moved from Pescara to Stuttgart and will encounter Jorginho in the Bundesliga next season. Rai and Marcio Santos play in France; Mauro Silva, Bebeto and Romario earn their considerable salaries in Spain.

Perhaps it is not so much that a more European style has been imposed on Brazil, more that they have acquired some of it. 'Determination and fighting spirit, that is something we have learned from the European game,' says Romario. 'But we're never going to forget that our technique will always be Brazilian.'

Brazil have the more experience, Carlos Alberto Parreira having resisted the claims of Cafu, born the summer of Brazil's last World Cup win, and the 17-year-old prodigy Ronaldo, whom the coach's mother has urged him to select. Their mean age is almost 29 and they average 60 caps per man. By contrast, Italy's figures are 26 and 28.

Brazil have proved a second-half team, scoring nine of their 11 goals after the break, of which total Romario has claimed five, and Bebeto three. That may disturb the Italians, who wilted visibly during that period in their semi-final against Bulgaria.

Nevertheless, the Italians will seek comfort in the fact that they have themselves scored five of their eight goals - five of that tally to Roberto Baggio - in the second half, though the evidence against Bulgaria of two in the first 25 minutes suggests that their best chance may be to strike early, even if Brazil have conceded only one of their three goals in the first half. Italy have, meanwhile, conceded three of their five goals in the first half.

The final referee is the Hungarian Sandor Puhl, who has thus been cleared of blame for failing to spot the elbow off the ball by the Italian defender Mauro Tassotti - which was punished by an eight-match ban after a review of videotape - on Spain's Luis Enrique in his side's 2-1 quarter-final victory.

It appears that Fifa prefer the evidence of his work in the group matches between Norway and Mexico, when he played a good advantage to allow Kjetil Rekdal to go on and score a late winning goal, and Brazil and Sweden. Thus he has refereed both finalists once each previously in this tournament.

An omen to today's outcome? In a football video game competition in California last week, an Italian team beat Brazil's representatives 1-0.