Football / World Cup USA '94 / The Final: Brazil have the skill to ride Italy's luck: Romario and Bebeto hold the key for the favourites while Roberto Baggio remains their greatest threat

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The Independent Online
WHEN appointed to coach Brazil three months before the 1970 World Cup finals, Mario Zagalo acted on a theory that had less to do with romance than reality. An important scuffler for Brazil in the triumphs of 1958 and 1962, the 'Little Ant', as he was known, Zagalo lectured accordingly.

The essence of Zagalo's instruction was the need to establish a sound balance between defence and attack. It was marvellous to have such outstanding forwards as Pele, Tostao, Jairzinho, Rivelino and Gerson but if goals were given away their great gifts might come to nothing. A significant fact about the most arousing of Brazil's teams is that they conceded fewer goals than any other in the 1970 tournament.

The reason for pointing this out is that Zagalo, in the role of consultant, is never far from the side of Brazil's coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who was one of his assistants 24 years ago. Consequently, you see much of Zagalo's teams (he was also coach in 1974) in the one Parreira has advanced to the World Cup final against Italy tomorrow at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Parreira has accepted the brunt of the criticism for refusing to risk the 17-year-old, Ronaldo, as a third attacker and cutting Rai from the starting line-up, but it is safe to assume that this meets with Zagalo's enthusiastic approval. Brazil's midfield, reliable rather than inventive, unquestionably bears Zagalo's stamp.

Unlikely as it seemed before the tournament began, Romario and Bebeto have formed a sublime alliance, sharing eight of 11 goals, enabling Brazil to concentrate on getting the ball to them without running the risk of being outnumbered in midfield and leaving the back line uncovered. 'I think we might be getting close to the ideal we have in mind,' Parreira said after Brazil successfully negotiated a quarter-final against the Netherlands.

However, serious defensive lapses that enabled the Netherlands to draw level after falling two goals behind argue against the notion that Brazil will take risks against Italy in an attempt to serve up the carnival that people want from them. 'We cannot afford the elementary errors of marking that led to those goals,' Zagalo said this week. 'It was kindergarten defending.'

That Brazil have reached the final without being able to call upon their first-choice central defenders, Ricardo Rocha and Ricardo Gomez, who are injured, Gomez so badly that he could not be included in the squad, says a lot for their organisation and team spirit.

Of course, the importance of Romario and Bebeto cannot be overestimated. At times the combination has been uncannily effective, almost telepathic. Sitting together this week they joked about suggestions of a serious personal rift. 'A lot of stupid things have been spoken and written about us,' Romario said. 'A lot of lies.

'The truth is that we are different people. I respect Bebeto a lot and fortunately none of that stuff has effected us on the field.' Bebeto smiled in agreement. 'Romario is much more of an extrovert and he stays close to the penalty area while I move about more, sometimes going to the wings, sometimes dropping deeper to get the ball,' he said.

Although, at 30, older by two years, Bebeto looked boyish alongside his sturdier compatriot whose narrow, knowing eyes are set wide in swarthy features. Physically they have very little in common but they have worked for success and there was something in the forthright earnestness of their responses which was in itself pleasing.

In December 1992, Romario created so much public disturbance after being left out of the team, so offended Zagalo, that he missed all but the last of Brazil's qualifying matches, returning to score twice against Uruguay. He believes that public opinion had a great deal to do with his recall. 'My performances for Barcelona made people realise that I could be an important player for Brazil,' he added.

It is a point of pride with Romario that he could emerge as the tournament's leading scorer, needing just one to draw level with Oleg Salenkov of Russia and Hristo Stoichkov of Bulgaria, who is doubtful for today's third-place match against Sweden. 'But don't forget that Roberto Baggio is in there, too,' Romario said.

Italy's anxiety over the injury that forced Baggio's substitution after scoring twice in the semi-final against Bulgaria is understandable. But for Baggio's goals it would have been Arrivederci Italia. He has never looked entirely happy, but for Italy's beleaguered coach, Arrigo Sacchi, he has been the difference between relative success and abject failure. The biliousness with which Sacchi regards the world around him now has much to with Baggio's condition. As Baggio's chances of appearing in the final are said to be no better than even money, what price the Azzurri without him?

Bedeviled by injuries, Sacchi has been forced to call upon all but two members of his squad. The defender Mauro Tassotti has been ruled out by the eight-game suspension he received for an elbow that broke Luis Henrique's nose in the quarter-final against Spain.

Sacchi must also replace Alessandro Costacurta, who received a second yellow card against Bulgaria. The return of Franco Baresi, three weeks after knee surgery, seems unlikely. The midfielder Roberto Donadoni, struggling with a hamstring strain, might also miss out.

Everywhere Sacchi looks, he sees a problem. If they are not wounded they are unavailable. At one time or another, practically all his players have been limping. Parreira has so far made only two changes in his starting line-up, bringing in Branco for the suspended Leonardo and Mazinho for Rai.

Continuity is an important factor in football, but so is luck. Injuries apart, Italy's has held. After twice being seconds from elimination, surviving experiences that would have been mortally discouraging to most teams, they are still there. Doubtless, wise punters will disregard the notion, but raise superstition in Brazil, and who knows?

BRAZIL (probable): Taffarel (Reggiana); Jorginho (Bayern Munich), Aldair (Roma), Marcio Santos (Bordeaux), Branco (Fluminense); Dunga (VfB Stuttgart), Mauro Silva (Deportivo La Coruna), Mazinho (Palmeiras) or Rai (Paris St-Germain), Zinho (Palmeiras); Bebeto (Deportivo La Coruna), Romario (Barcelona).

ITALY (possible): Pagliuca (Sampdoria); Mussi (Torino), Apolloni (Parma) or Baresi (Milan), Maldini (Milan), Benarrivo (Parma); Berti (Internazionale), Albertini (Milan), D Baggio (Parma), Donadoni (Milan); Casiraghi (Lazio), R Baggio (Juventus) or Signori (Lazio).

Referee: Sandor Puhl (Hungary). Linesmen: Venancio Zarate Vazquez (Paraguay); Mohammed Fanaei (Iran).

----------------------------------------------------------------- HEAD TO HEAD ----------------------------------------------------------------- Italy. . . . . . . . .2 Brazil. . . . . .1 16 June 1938 (World Cup semi-final, Marseille) Italy. . . . . . . . .3 Brazil. . . . . . 0 25 April 1956 (Friendly, Milan) Brazil. . . . . . . . 2 Italy . . . . . . 0 1 July 1956 (Friendly, Rio de Janeiro) Italy. . . . . . . . .3 Brazil. . . . . . 0 12 May 1963 (Friendly, Milan) Brazil. . . . . . . . 4 Italy . . . . . . 1 21 June 1970 (World Cup final, Mexico City) Italy. . . . . . . . .0 Brazil. . . . . . 2 9 June 1973 (Friendly, Rome) Brazil. . . . . . . . 4 Italy . . . . . . 1 31 May 1976 (Friendly, New Haven, US) Brazil. . . . . . . . 2 Italy . . . . . . 1 24 June 1978 (World Cup 3rd/ 4th play-off, Buenos Aires) Italy. . . . . . . . .3 Brazil. . . . . . 2 5 July 1982 (World Cup second round, Barcelona) Italy. . . . . . . . .0 Brazil. . . . . . 1 14 Oct 1989 (Friendly, Bologna) ----------------------------------------------------------------- Overall: 10 Meetings: Brazil 6 Italy 4 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)