Brazil's blushes spared but big doubts remain

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The Independent Football

In the end the weight of tradition tipped the balance, and a 3-0 win over Venezuela made Brazil the 30th country to qualify for next year's World Cup.

In the end the weight of tradition tipped the balance, and a 3-0 win over Venezuela made Brazil the 30th country to qualify for next year's World Cup. But tradition is always more potent when it receives a helping hand from the referee.

No one wanted to be part of the first Brazil side not to reach the World Cup finals, and the game turned on a controversial opening goal in the 12th minute. Edilson, Brazil's livewire striker, hauled over the Venezuela centre-half Mea Vitali, leaving clear passage for Luizão to round the keeper and score.

Several of Brazil's recent opponents have complained that the four-times world champions were being favoured by the authorities. That the goal stood added credence to those comments, and is almost certainly why the Venezuela coach, Ricardo Paez, did not show up at the post-match conference.

With their nerves settled Brazil quickly added two more goals, both set up by Edilson using more legal means. His pass split the defence and allowed Luizão to celebrate his 26th birthday with a second goal. Then Edilson's dribble into the penalty area released Rivaldo to score his eighth of the campaign with a low cross-shot.

The question now is whether Brazil are capable of winning the World Cup. They have stumbled through 18 games using 62 players, and look no closer to finding a winning blend than when the campaign started. With little space in the calendar for friendlies next year, they have much to do in a short space of time if they are to do justice to their tradition in Japan and South Korea.

With Brazil through, the focus switched to the battle to finish fifth for a two-leg play-off against Australia. Uruguay assumed that a draw would be good enough; Colombia would have to travel to Paraguay, with a wonderful home record, and win by a five-goal margin.

However, with Faustino Asprilla and Victor Aristizabal finally hitting form, Colombia raced to a 4-0 win. That meant Uruguay could not afford to lose. Dario Silva put them in front, but Claudio Lopez equalised on the verge of half-time.

Ultimately Uruguay were grateful to their young goalkeeper Fabian Carini, who kept the scores level with a close-range block from Juan Pablo Sorin, and their defensive record, the best on the continent, which helped them scrape into the play-off on goal difference. Ecuador's goalless draw with Chile meant that they finish in second place.

It was a fitting end to a splendid competition which – with all 10 countries meeting home and away – has allowed the weaker footballing nations, such as Ecuador and Venezuela, to develop. It will not be repeated, however. The next qualifying campaign will divide South America into two groups. It might mean that Brazil will not need a helping hand.

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