by Murad Ahmed - 04/10/2006
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Brazil is such an overwhelming favorite for the World Cup you would think the team already have its name inscribed on the trophy for the 2006 World Cup. But a look at the history of past World Cup favorites for the World Cup shows that it rarely works out that way.
Pre Tournament Favorites: France
France was the reigning World and European champions in 2002. Zinedine Zidane looked in awesome form for club and country, and France could boast two of the world's best strikers in Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet. The team should have been better, not worse in 2002. But the French were humiliatingly knocked out at the group stage. France lost to World Cup newcomers Senegal, drew against Uruguay and were then destroyed by lowly Denmark. One point, no goals, bottom of the group. There would have been longer odds on that outcome than France winning in 2002.
Reigning World Champions Brazil looked odds on to retaining their world crown in '98, especially as they had the world's best player at the time in Ronaldo. Brazil coasted to the final, but then things went haywire. Ronaldo was taken to hospital just before the final, reportedly after suffering a fit. He was rushed back to the stadium in no state to play the biggest game of his life. Mentally, Brazil was beaten before the kick-off. France brushed Brazil aside, 3-0, with embarrassing ease, to lift its first World Cup. Four years later, however, Ronaldo would avenge his darkest day with his brightest - scoring two goals in the final of the 2002 World Cup. For him, four years later is better than never.
The Brazilian soccer philosophy is not only to win, but also to win pretty. By the '94 World Cup, Brazil had not won it, playing pretty or otherwise, since 1970. So though the team arrived in the USA as hot favorites, they were more organized and defensive-minded than ever before. Captain Dunga will be remembered for his standout performances in defensive midfield. The potent strike duo of Romario and Bebeto fired Brazil into a final, where the team struggled past a dogged Italian side on penalties.
Favorites: The Netherlands
The Dutch have always been admired, and sometimes have been tipped for the major honors. A team that contained superstars such as Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard had spectacularly won the 1988 European Championships, so much was expected of them at Italia '90. Instead, eventual champions West Germany beat Holland in the quarter-finals. In that ill-tempered match, the Dutch lost their cool, typified when Rijkaard spat on German striker Rudi Voller after both were sent off (Voller returned the compliment in kind, though). The petulant Dutch fell apart. The Germans scrapped and worked their way to the championship. It was the soccer mentality rather than the quality of the teams that made the difference.
Yet another team of superstars that had just won the European Championships - France - came into the World Cup as warm favorites. The French team, containing the likes of Michel Platini, reached the semi-finals for the second successive tournament, but, yet again, faced West Germany. As is so often is the case in World Cup history, the Germans put away a superior side on paper through sheer determination and, well, German-mindedness. Meanwhile, the tournament was being lit up by Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to the title with a series of stunning match-winning performances, including one of the greatest goals ever seen against England in the quarter-final.
The '82 Brazil side that contained Socrates, Zico and Falcao is largely regarded as the best team not to win the World Cup. It's not like they played badly in the tournament, in fact they lit it up during the early stages, particularly when thrashing Scotland, 4-1. But Brazil lost to eventual winners Italy, 4-3, in a pulsating second round tie. An on-fire Paolo Rossi scored a hat trick to beat one of the best Brazil sides there ever was.
Favorites: The Netherlands
1978 favorites, the Netherlands, were missing their star player Johann Crujff, who refused to participate out of protest over a military coup that had happened in the host country, Argentina. Still, Holland was good enough to make the final but lost to Argentina thanks to goals from the tournament's top scorer, Mario Kempes. The Dutch would never get as close again.
Favorites: The Netherlands
The 70's belonged to the Netherlands and its brand of "Total Football". The Dutch were trying to achieve soccer perfection and no player epitomised this more than the Dutch maestro Johan Cruyff. After taking the lead after two minutes, in the final against host West Germany, Holland got arrogant, knocking the ball about as if it were an exhibition match. The World Cup rule Holland failed to observe was to never underestimate a German side. West Germany rallied to take the lead through Gerd Muller, one of the all-time great predatory strikers. The Dutch failings in that match have haunted their soccer to this day.
The '70 Brazil side - the greatest team in World Cup history - kept their fans, bookmakers and the soccer world happy with the best play the world has ever seen. Oh, and they had the best player ever to kick a ball in Pele. Italy was the unfortunate team to get the inevitable drubbing in the final. Brazil won, 4-1, in a match that included one of the best team goals ever seen, with almost every player touching the ball in a breathtaking move up field. Pele delivered the perfect lay-off to captain Carlos Alberto to fire the ball home.
This is the team that all subsequent Brazil teams are compared to, and maybe just maybe, the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka, and Ronaldo might come some way close to matching them in '06.