Matt Holland: Hail Ronaldo, redemption boy
Sunday 30 June 2002
Brazil will win this World Cup final. Castigate me if I am wrong and, if I am, then shower plaudits on Oliver Kahn, the German goalkeeper and main reason they are still in the Far East. In fact he could well be the man of the tournament, a title normally bestowed on the glory-boy forwards.
But because I've said Brazil will win I have to give my vote for top player to Ronaldo. But the point is made that there is little to choose between these two despite the contrasting nature of their positions. Kahn versus Ronaldo neatly sums up the final. I hope and think it will be a cracking battle but without my third player of the tournament, Michael Ballack, I cannot see Germany winning.
You can dispute my selections for my World Cup team (on the facing page), especially the lack of Africans, although Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o came very close. But allow me to argue the case for my top three. Kahn has been the best shot-stopper, most dominating presence and influential leader of the whole show.
He has reminded me of Peter Schmeichel in his pomp, completely in control of his penalty box, incredibly quick for such a big man and a real athlete when forced to save. Many a forward has been ready to celebrate only to look dumbfounded as Kahn has done the impossible. Forget the easy passage of the Germans when contemplating Kahn, his saves have been exceptional and as precious as a striker's goals.
Now, his compatriot Ballack may not have dazzled like Rivaldo or Ronaldinho but he has done what the world's best have to, won the crunch games. Both the quarter-final and semi-final were decided by a solitary goal; the scorer each time? Ballack. Not only has he scored these vital goals, he has tracked back and has generally been the only creative element of a dour German side.
He misses the final because of a cynical foul in the final quarter of the semi-final against South Korea and without his drive and creation, I think Germany's only hope will be for Brazil to lose the match, rather than them win it.
So that leaves Ronaldo. I have really enjoyed his comeback after a terrible four years and he has reminded the world how good he was by proving he still is. Strong, quick, powerful, nigh on impossible to push off the ball and with exceptional close control even when charging on goal at pace, he is the complete centre-forward.
Others may have superior trickery, Ronaldinho and Damien Duff for example, but no one drives towards their target with such menace and power. Even when playing below par, he wins matches as Turkey discovered in the semi-final. If a computer created the perfect striker, the only difference might be the teeth.
David Beckham had his penalty of redemption against Argentina, but Ronaldo has had his tournament of re-birth. The fit or seizure he suffered hours before the final at France 98 and the injuries that threatened to break him will be forgotten if he crowns this final with the winning goal. I hope he does because it is great to see him back.
Many might argue about Rivaldo, and I must admit to being tempted to naming four players because he is exceptional, but his blatant cheating and gamesmanship is disgusting. Make no excuses for it. It insults the game and himself. A pathetic fine won't stop him. Lest anyone be in doubt, we footballers are wealthy people – £3,000 or £ 30,000 is immaterial when the top players earn towards £100,000 a week. Ban them for a game or two games and see what effect that has.
So the perfect final will see Kahn producing a series of magnificent saves until the final 10 minutes when an increasingly exasperated Brazil will start a fast counter-attack from Roberto Carlos at left-back, yellow shirts flowing forward in an ever-changing formation until Ronaldinho bamboozles the gathering defenders before releasing Ronaldo for a one-on-one against Kahn.
This has not been the most aesthetically pleasing World Cup so the least we can hope is for it to be won with a Brazilian flourish. It seems right when attackers win tournaments rather than good defences.
Talking of defenders, I bumped into Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole in a shoe shop in London last week. How was Ferdinand not picked in the Fifa Select XI?
"Great goal," I offered to Rio and he kindly he replied: "And yours Matt, a great strike."
A moment of silence followed before the important questions.
"Are you moving from Leeds?" I asked. A smile and "Are you leaving Ipswich?"
We both left the shop.
Matt Holland was talking to Iain Fletcher
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