Two men go into the Brazil vs France quarter-final at Frankfurt looking to raise the World Cup trophy for one last time in their careers. For those who think that this is about football, think again. This is about winning, this is about being champions, again.
These men are superstars, and towards the end of their careers, they have won everything under the sun. Champions League medals? Check. League titles? Check. World Cup? Check. Star studded support cast? Check.
In fact you would be hard pressed to decide who has the edge.
The Frenchman, at the peak of his powers, was one of the greatest footballers to ever have lived. He holds the record for being the most expensive transfer in the history of football – a record that is set to stand for a long time (unless Chelsea move for Rooney in the next couple of years). With him, France won the World Cup in 98, the European Championships in 2000 and without him, France were a shadow of the side they could have been and were knocked out of the 2002 World Cup without scoring a goal. No other player (apart from his Brazilian counterpart, perhaps) had has such a grip over his team’s fortunes.
Tomorrow he will line up perhaps for the last time in his career, hoping to delay his retirement till July 9. He has been derided for his ‘lack’ of form in this tournament (and for his club as well), but the master knows how to raise his game, and this is the time to make it all happen.
The legend is back, but will his side live up to the expectations?
The Brazilian still has the spark that once made him the most feared striker in Europe and helped him break Gerd Muller’s record against Ghana this summer. His exploits in Italy and Spain are legendary, but he will always be remembered for his World Cup performances. His first was a picture-perfect tournament at France 98 before his ‘mystery illness’ right before the final (dizzy spells that have stuck with him throughout his career) – an illness that signalled the end of Brazil’s reign and a 3-0 victory for the French.
It took another four years before Romario’s heir could redeem himself, winning the Golden Boot as well as helping Brazil win the World Cup in 2002. His brace in the final helped Brazil seal an easy victory and win their 5th World Cup title. It’s a distinction that does not weigh down on the Brazilians. They want to win more, and coming into this match, they know they have one last demon left to exorcise.
The king has a few games left in him, but against France’s tightly knit defense he’ll need to linkup with Ronny and Kaka.
The battle is not just between Zidane and Ronaldo however. There are many agendas involved – Cafu wants to lift the title again (it’s the only reason he has carried on playing for so long), while Vieira will be looking for that big title which will quite likely be his last seeing how Juve are faring. Kaka and Ribery, the young stars for both teams, have a lot to prove while Ze Roberto and William Gallas are both looking for the recognition they think they deserve (but haven’t received so far).
But if one rivalry was between past greats, there is another one brewing between the two best footballers in the world today. They don’t come better than Ronaldinho and Henry. Both players are driven not only by supreme talent but also unrivaled ambition, one that has pushed them to perform consistently at the top level for the past few years. Both also carry the unfortunate tag of playing better for club than for team, although both have proved otherwise several times.
The Barcelona-Arsenal match is being thrown in for spice by the media, but neither player will be thinking about it. That match is now history. What these men want is the biggest prize in football, not to rehash old feuds. For Henry this is probably his last chance to lift the trophy – although with his talents you don’t count against him returning in 2010 to lead France for one more time. Ronaldinho, on the other hand, would want to repeat his feats of 2002 and stamp his mark as the only player to win the league title, the Champions League and the World Cup in one season.
It’s time the ‘best footballer’ in the world delivers. This was supposed to be his tournament, but so far we’ve seen little despite the obvious promise.
Henry will be hoping he is remembered in Germany 2006 for more than just the Spain match.
You could argue that the French want to win more, and that alone could decide the tie. But the will to win didn’t help the Aussies, and it didnt help the Dutch either. This match will be decided on individual moments of brilliance, and it should be, alongwith Germany vs Argentina, the best match of the tournament so far.
Players to watch out for
Brazil: Ronaldo, Kaka (if he plays, otherwise Juninho), Ronaldinho (and Gilberto Silva, if he starts in place of Emerson).
France: Zidane, Henry, Gallas, Ribery.
Brazil wins 2-1.