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Nothing but the Best

Brazil's Roberto Carlos Holds the Key to Winning This Title


YOKOHAMA, Japan — If there's one person the Germans have to watch out for in Sunday's World Cup final, it's the bald guy.

No, not Pierluigi Collina. The Italian referee with the cue-ball head and the piercing eyes is the least of Germany's worries. He is probably the most highly respected game official in soccer and the perfect choice for a Brazil-Germany clash.

No, not Ronaldo, either. The Brazilian striker may be the tournament's leading goal scorer, but he doesn't really qualify as bald anymore, at least not since he let that peculiar Chia-pet half-circle of hair sprout on the front of his head.

The person the Germans should fear comes from farther back in the Brazilian pack. He lurks in the left back position, waiting to either create or score the goal that will give the South Americans a record fifth world championship.

Roberto Carlos is his name, and in this tournament he once again has demonstrated why he is the best attacking outside back in the world today.

The thing about Roberto Carlos--the name is singular, even though it has two halves--is that he can hurt you in so many ways.

There's his speed. The man can be at one end of the field, sending in a cross for Ronaldo or Rivaldo or Ronaldinho to knock into the net at one moment, and in the next instant he can be making a saving tackle back in his own penalty area.

Brazil may boast of its "Triple R" offense, but it really should be the "Quadruple R," considering Roberto Carlos' contribution.

Then there's his ability to deliver the perfect ball, striking a hard, low liner across the face of the opposing net to create havoc amid the tangle of legs reaching out to deflect it, or floating a delicate cross directly onto the forehead or foot of a striker.

Earlier this year, the soccer world watched in awe as Roberto Carlos did exactly that for Real Madrid, delivering the perfect ball for Zinedine Zidane to volley into the back of Bayer Leverkusen's net and put the Spanish club on the way to its ninth European Champions Cup title.

Zidane got the credit for the superb goal, but it was created by Roberto Carlos.

Germany will be well aware of the threat he poses. Coach Rudi Voeller's starting lineup features three Leverkusen players, a number that would have been four had playmaker Michael Ballack not been suspended.

A third way Roberto Carlos can undo all of Voeller's work in building a near-impenetrable German defense that has given up only one goal in six World Cup games is with a free kick.

The 29-year-old has perhaps the most wicked left-footed shot in the world from a dead ball situation.

His most memorable goal was the one he struck against France at the Tournoi de France in 1997, when he hit the ball with such force and such spin that it sent photographers behind the net diving to get out of the way, only to curve back in and beat goalkeeper Fabian Barthez.

Roberto Carlos had another memorable goal at this World Cup. Not as improbable as the former, it nevertheless was hit with such power and accuracy that China's defensive wall and goalkeeper could only stand and watch as the ball screamed past them into the net.

So the trick for Germany on Sunday will be to keep an eye on the four R's, while still trying to contain Cafu coming down the right flank and, possibly, Juninho Paulista coming up the middle. It will be an immense task, and Voeller will probably tell defensive midfielder Dietmar Hamann and Jens Jeremies, Ballack's replacement, to stay back and help the defenders rather than involve themselves in the offense.

All of which means that the Germans' attack probably will be limited to two options: seeking corner kicks and free kicks, from which they will hope to get the headers that can test Brazilian goalkeeper Marcos, and long balls sent in from the wings by Christian Ziege on the left and Bernd Schneider on the right.

But with a team as explosive as Brazil is on the counterattack, Germany cannot afford to get caught with too many players forward, which means forward Oliver Neuville and Miroslav Klose may be in for a long night battling for crosses against superior numbers.

Brazil's Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari knows that his own defense can't match Germany's and that if Roberto Carlos has one fault, it's a tendency to go forward too far, too often, leaving the defense more porous than ever.

As a result, the defense-minded Kleberson is a more likely starter in midfield than Juninho Paulista. Nevertheless, Scolari is expected to have his team running at Germany from the opening whistle, keeping it pinned back on defense and unable to use its superior height and physical strength on offense.

Germany, seeking its fourth World Cup, does not have the speed to match Brazil's, but it is a disciplined team that seldom loses its shape. That will be essential if the surprise-minded South Americans are to be contained.

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