Ace Adriano deals Brazil a winning hand
THE DAY REPLAYED: Amid the debate over the fallibility of Brazil's defence maybe we had overlooked the reality that however generous their defensive mood they always possess the attacking armoury to keep their noses in front. Twice in a fascinating FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final Germany recovered to wipe out the South American advantage but when Brazil knocked a third time the home nation were unable to answer again. The world champions, drawing on the inspiration of two-goal Adriano, won 3-2 to march on to Wednesday's final, leaving the home nation to begin in earnest their preparations for next year's FIFA World Cup.
The Frankfurt finale could pitch Carlos Alberto Parreira's team against their neighbours and legendary rivals Argentina. Or it could bring them back to face Mexico, the same opposition who landed a stunning blow in Hanover last Sunday with a 1-0 victory. Either way it is a fascinating match-up and the FIFA Confederations Cup is sure to have its first non-European winners since Mexico 1999. In that enthralling final Brazil and Mexico slugged it out relentlessly with a pulsating, roller-coaster ending 4-3 in favour of the host nation.
Defeat is an unusual experience for Jurgen Klinsmann and the team who will carry the expectations of 80 million or so in 12 months' time. The German coach had suffered only one previous defeat in his previous 14 games. His players, young and old, have acquitted themselves well on home soil but their supporters will worry over another statistic that shows it is now 14 fixtures and nearly five years since the Nationalmannschaft, outscored top-class opposition.
That run includes the 2002 FIFA World Cup which also climaxed in a Germany-Brazil showdown, won for the Seleção by Ronaldo's pair of goals. For much of tonight's first half Germany had the better of things and had just come close with a Bernd Schneider volley. Yet heavy sanctions await opponents who concede free-kicks around the penalty area when there are the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano and maybe Juninho Pernambucano as well - primed for the kill. Ronaldinho stood over the ball but it was Adriano who took aim and a ferocious hit brushed off a red shirt and left Jens Lehmann on his backside, contemplating the cruelty of life. Adriano was happy enough with his milestone goal the 250th in the competition's history.
Germany were a wounded beast but responded immediately and Fabian Ernst might have caught Dida napping with a cross. From the corner the Brazilian goalkeeper had still not recovered his bearings and Lukas Podolski was able to tuck a header inside his right-hand post. Just as in their previous two games against Mexico and Japan it did not show Brazilian defending in its best light.
Then we had the penalties numbers nine and ten in this remarkable competition. The conversions were both immaculate examples of how to render a goalkeeper impotent from 12 yards, maintaining the high standards that have seen only two of the ten attempts fail. Ronaldinho sent his all along the ground at pace, billowing the netting that surrounds the left-hand post; Michael Ballack responded by applying elevation as he opted for the opposite corner of goal.
Ballack had missed the 2002 FIFA World Cup final in Yokohama, his suspension inflicting a pain he hopes he does not have to carry for the rest of his life. The captain's influence on this German team is total and he is nothing less than reliable from the spot, scoring that way for the third time in this tournament. When he was on song in the first half Germany had the upper hand, helped in no small measure by the competitiveness of Sebastian Deisler, a creative spark but also the player to be pulled up more than any other at this tournament for fouls now 14.
After the break however Robinho came more into the game and Adriano's power made him the most difficult of foes to shackle. Lucio sent over a header that he should have put away but it did not matter because in the very next minute Robinho put Adriano away and that trusty left boot did the rest. It was another five-goal spectacular in the Frankenstadion to maintain that venue's average over the three games and it left Brazil heading for Frankfurt on a wave of attacking might. The five-times world champions will be confident now that they can claim this trophy for the second time.