Brazil, Italy Fight for Record 4th Cup

PASADENA, California -- Destiny beckons Brazil to a long overdue World Cup victory Sunday but the omens look bleak for a nostalgic return to the magic of the classic 1970 final with Italy, its rivals then and now.

Optimists can dream. Brazil and Italy, two of the giants of the game and both going for a record fourth World Cup win, possess in Romario and Roberto Baggio respectively a wizard able to lend enchantment to the greatest occasion in sport.

But harsher realities suggest a match decided more by physical than mystical qualities, with the midfield workers and the defensive drones exerting a greater influence than the queen bees of the forward line.

Baggio may have to play with a hamstring injury and the coaches are busy devising ways of muting their opponents' virtuosos.

The Brazilian trainer Carlos Alberto Parreira, carrying the burden of bringing back a trophy for the first time in 24 years to a fanatical football nation that believes it is theirs by divine right, knows the score.

"We can't give them any space," he said. "We have to play tight. They don't open up either. They know how to close up and come out on the counter-attack."

The tone is set. The 90,000 fans at the Pasadena Rose Bowl and the massive worldwide television audience can expect no remake of 1970 when the dazzling Brazil team of Pele, Tostao, Gerson and Rivelino sizzled to a 4-1 victory over an excellent Italian side in perhaps the greatest game ever played.

Fate seems to have been kind to a Brazilian side which, though comfortably the best team of the U.S. finals, bears little comparison with their illustrious predecessors.

Brazil has gone into most matches with the cards stacked in its favor. In the quarterfinal it played a Dutch team tired from the stifling, humid conditions of earlier games in Orlando and then faced a Swedish team which had only two days to overcome an exhausting extra time and penalty shootout win.

Sunday will be no exception as the Italians curse the rough luck that has plagued them.

The suspensions of defenders Alessandro Costacurta and Mauro Tassotti weaken Italy's hand considerably but the injuries to Baggio and Franco Baresi may rob it of its trumps.

If Sacchi gambles on Baggio, he may be less inclined to do the same with Baresi, the most elegant sweeper in the world since Franz Beckenbauer, who is just fit again after keyhole surgery on a knee injury which has kept him out of the last four games.

Sacchi, who has countered criticism of his tactics by saying he never promised spectacular soccer, is forced to try to stop the Brazilians playing.

Though his defense is disrupted, he has an abundance of defensive midfielders, led by his star's namesake Dino Baggio, who are eminently capable of clamping down on Brazil's attempts to make openings.

There Italy touches the weakness of an otherwise excellent Brazilian side. The defense is awesome and strikers Romario and Bebeto unrivaled but the midfield is uninspiring and uninspired. The team's flamboyant samba soccer has become a sedate foxtrot more in place on the Costa Brava than on Copacabana.

Romario, like Baggio his side's savior with five goals to date, knows he has the chance to turn the direct duel with the Italian in his favor.

"We have both shown we are capable of scoring important goals for our teams," he said. "I'm sure the team that wins will be the one that has the best player of the competition."