Football / World Cup USA '94 / The Final: Immoveable Marcio Santos is the repo man: Henry Winter applauds the central defender who dominates proceedings in the Brazilian back four

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The Independent Online
REMOVE Romario and Bebeto from Brazil's squad and attacking replacements do not exactly sprint from the dressing-room. Certainly not Muller, an inconsistent force when called upon, nor the promising yet untried Ronaldo.

T'was never thus. Pele's homeland traditionally enjoyed a surfeit of strikers. The focus of Brazilian football has shifted slightly; extract a defender from Carlos Alberto Parreira's side and up steps another of equal calibre.

Like tomorrow's opponents, Brazil's back four have altered markedly from the ones who prepared for seven games in America. Mozer, Benfica's stopper, was the first defender to surrender his squad place reluctantly after the debilitating onset of hepatitis. Aldair was summoned from Roma.

Brazil's hex then claimed Ricardo Gomes, a victim of damaged leg muscles. Ronaldao Rodrigues leapt on the first plane from Japan. Next to go was Ricardo Rocha, his groin tendons torn, in the opening victory over Russia. With only 68 minutes elapsed on the road to Pasadena, Parreira's centre-halves were picking themselves. Fortunately for the eminently likeable coach, both Aldair and, particularly, Marcio Santos seized the moment.

'Brazil have about eight quality central defenders,' Mario Zagalo, Parreira's assistant, believes. 'Any of them were potential world champions.'

Of the improvised partnership between two of Zagalo's eight, Marcio Roberto Dos Santos has contributed most to the three- times winners' progression to the final. Commanding in the air, almost thief-like in the tackle, Bordeaux's 24-year-old resembles Tony Adams with superior distribution.

Yet like Adams, Marcio Santos suffered a rare lapse induced by the limpet-like ball control of Dennis Bergkamp. The Dutch forward, seeking to retrieve a lost cause in the Dallas quarter-final, accelerated past Marcio Santos's weak challenge to score a goal which undermined all Brazil's earlier industry.

Happily for those who admire Marcio Santos's normal solidity, a mistake that would have made even a hung-over Sunday league player blush failed to influence the eventual outcome. Brazil swept on.

Dour Sweden were eventually despatched, the platform for Brazilian momentum again founded on the No 15's domination of the approach roads to Claudio Taffarel's goal. One ball-winning tackle by Marcio Santos on Tomas Brolin will linger long in the mind's eye. 'Find and deliver' is the mantra of a man skilled in the repossession game.

This policy of containment should continue. Pierluigi Casiraghi, Italy's ponderous centre-forward, poses few concerns. Marcio Santos's sinews and nerves should be stretched only if Roberto Baggio is fully fit.

Throughout USA '94, opposing attackers have struggled to bypass Marcio Santos. Only three goals have been conceded - two sloppily to the Dutch, when Marcio Santos and Taffarel were found wanting at the near post.

Overall, though, such parsimony compares favourably with Brazil's records en route to previous World Cup triumphs. Four goals were allowed in 1958, five in 1962, and seven by Zagalo's side of 1970.

Parreira, a refreshing advocate of European steel and Latin flair, knows that outscoring the opposition - the holy tenet of Brazilian football - proves infinitely easier if few goals are given to the opposition.

While rightly lauded as an above-average defensive unit, Brazil's defenders have shown, on occasion, their genetic links to Carlos Alberto's generation.

The fiery Branco, an able understudy for Leonardo, ended the Netherlands' campaign with a furiously driven free-kick straight from the 1970 scrapbook. On the right, Jorginho delivered the cross to Romario that ensured Brazil's presence at tomorrow's final. Even Marcio Santos has ventured upfield to score. If Romario and Bebeto dominate tomorrow's proceedings, Brazil's success will nevertheless have had its roots at the back.

(Photograph omitted)

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