The competition was fierce. Elbows were high, every inch of territory was a precious gain and obstacles were surmounted without thought of safety.
And that was in the stands.
Reporters attending Brazil's World Cup practice Thursday at Cal State Fullerton fought harder for position than did the players, who went through a casual workout in preparation for Sunday's championship game against Italy at the Rose Bowl. Only a few regulars participated, among them midfielder Rai and goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel, and they were hotly pursued by about 400 reporters.
Fullerton police, pressed into crowd-control duty on short notice, used handcuffs to secure the gate leading to the field. At one point, a player identified as defender Ricardo Rocha yelled at a group of Brazilian reporters, who were said to be dissatisfied with the sparse player turnout.
"There aren't enough players to go around," said Francisco Marcos, the Brazilian team's liaison and translator.
Brazil Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was also in a contentious mood, although he was far more cordial than his players.
The morning after guiding Brazil to a 1-0 victory over Sweden and its first berth in the final since 1970, Parreira again had to defend his strategy against charges that it is too rigid for players to display their individual flair. He has received unsolicited advice from everyone ranging from his mother--she wants to see teen-age sensation Ronaldo make his debut--to Pele to Brazilian President Itamar Franco.
"One problem is, we've got rock personalities, artists and musicians writing about soccer," Parreira said. "Indeed, there has been quite a bit of (criticism) but I'm not going to lower myself to that level. I'm not going to bother myself with it."
Parreira has noticed that he and Italy's Arrigo Sacchi, who have probably been subjected to the most second-guessing of all the coaches here, have led their teams to the final despite their supposed shortcomings. To Parreira, who has called his job "a death sentence," their success is sweet vindication.
"In a conservative medium, ambience, it is difficult to bring anything new," he said through Marcos' translation. "When passion enters the arena, things become even more difficult. The important thing for Sacchi and myself is that we believe in what we are doing and we follow that road right to the end.
"I am looking at Brazil's performance, and I don't remember a team ever reaching the final without being threatened. I'm happy that our way (of coaching) is being shown to be the correct way."
Asked if he ever doubted himself, he responded in English. "Never," he said. "Not one line was changed, even from the qualifying rounds. That is my personal satisfaction."
Parreira said the free-flowing, free-lance approach of previous Brazilian teams would not work because, except for Romario and Bebeto, his players' skills don't equal those of the 1970 championship squad. However, he scoffed at claims that he has shackled his players.
"There has to be more organization because soccer is no longer the same," he said. "We don't have, like 1970, five superstar types, so we could just get by with technique and talent, so the team has to be more organized, more disciplined.
"We are the most balanced team in the tournament. We are the most efficient team. . . . . We have not been threatened by any team in any of the games."