No nation has ever won the World Cup outside its own hemisphere, but that record will end if the sole South American survivors buckle under the burden of a continent's expectations. Such pressure, inevitable in view of Brazil's history of global pillage, could be as crucial in resolving this quarter-final as the quality of the opposition offered by the Dutch.
The words of an English manager about to visit Anfield spring to mind. 'My lads,' he declared, 'won't freeze in the white-hot atmosphere.' With the Netherlands also closing on a prize that holds an exalted place in their sporting culture - because it has twice eluded them at the last - woe betide any player getting cold feet in a stadium where the word cauldron will for once be appropriate.
The Beautiful Game has met its European cousin Total Football only once in the World Cup, 20 years ago this week, when the Netherlands' 2-0 victory swept them into the final. The scorers were Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, and by coincidence the central figures are again likely to come from the Catalan club.
For once Romario and Ronald Koeman will not be fighting for a common cause. Publicly, the pair are a mutual admiration society, but the Brazilian will doubtless have stressed Koeman's fallibility when forced to defend just as the Dutch captain must have pointed out Romario's tendency to disappear when marked rigorously.
Responsibility for Romario will probably be entrusted to Stan Valckx, one of the striker's few friends from his spell at PSV Eindhoven. Should he and Koeman come into direct opposition it may mean that Valckx has been shaken off. And in a race between Koeman and Romario, few bookies would accept bets on the Brazilian.
The Netherlands are therefore likely to stick with the side who accounted for the Irish, a safety-first system designed to afford Koeman protection as well as a platform for his attacking forays. For if Brazil are allowed to turn and work up speed the way Saudi Arabia did against them, Romario and Bebeto might run amok.
Dick Advocaat is waiting to see if his wide attackers, Marc Overmars and Peter van Vossen, recover from to minor injuries before deciding whether to recall Jan Wouters, who was suspended against the Irish. The pair will be expected to occupy Brazil's 'wing- backs' to the extent that they are too busy to raid down the flanks.
Carlos Alberto Parreira's main selection dilemma concerns the same area. His left-sided touchline marauder, Leonardo, has been banned for four games following his assault on the United States' Tab Ramos. Brazil's coach thus had to choose between Branco, now in his third finals, and the more dynamic but right-footed Cafu. He opted for the former.
Mazinho was preferred to Rai, who was also left out against the Americans, although as Advocaat observed: 'It doesn't matter who plays - the type of game will be exactly the same. Brazil were very good against Russia but less so against the US, who they seemed to underestimate. Yet they are still the favourites.'
Advocaat shared the sense of anticipation surrounding the fixture. 'The whole world's looking forward to it, but no one more than us,' he said. 'It should be a great clash of styles. Our game is based on movement, theirs more on individual skills. We have to try and play our natural game and stop them asserting theirs.'
Two veterans of Brazil's triumphant 1970 side are among the media entourage here. Gerson believed Parreira ought to have named a more attacking style, arguing that he should change a winning team to incorporate Cafu and Muller. Tostao, more cautious, drew encouragement from defensive solidity, though they agree that Romario is the man to win the World Cup.
Their opinion is shared by the player known for his arrogance as much as what one pundit called his 'dependable unpredictability'. 'I will give everything to win this cup,' Romario said, which apparently includes making the odd goal for Bebeto. 'It's been 24 years, and that sticks in the throat. The teams of '82 and '86 were talented and clever but did not win. We must do it for Brazil this time.'
There it is again, that self-imposed pressure which will make it a struggle of both temperament and tactics. Advocaat was asked whether he was feeling the strain, knowing that many of his compatriots would have preferred Cruyff in charge. 'I'm under so much stress,' he replied with a grin, 'that I've gained five kilos in weight since we've been in America.'
BRAZIL (4-4-2): Taffarel (Reggiana); Jorginho (Bayern Munich), Marcio Santos (Bordeaux), Aldair (Roma), Branco (Fluminense); Zinho (Palmeiras), Mauro Silva (Deportivo La Coruna), Mazinho (Palmeiras), Dunga (VfB Stuttgart); Romario (Barcelona), Bebeto (Deportivo La Coruna).
NETHERLANDS (probable; 1-3-3-3): De Goey (Feyenoord); Koeman (Barcelona); Winter (Lazio), Valckx (Sporting Lisbon), F De Boer (Ajax); Jonk (Internazionale), Rijkaard (Ajax), Witschge (Feyenoord); Overmars (Ajax), Bergkamp (Internazionale), Van Vossen (Ajax).
Referee: R Badilla Sequeira (Costa Rica).
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content