Had the 1994 World Cup proceeded according to the script, this story could not have been written.
It was supposed to be Brazil against Germany today at the Rose Bowl, not Brazil against Italy.
The Brazilians and Germans were expected to replay their memorable 3-3 tie of a year ago, when the teams met at RFK Stadium in Washington in U.S. Cup '93 competition.
Yes, this afternoon's match was to be the clash of two three-time champions, but one team was supposed to be wearing black, red and yellow, not blue. Despite playing a combined total of 145 World Cup matches, Brazil and Germany have never played each other in the World Cup.
A Brazil-Germany final at the Rose Bowl was to have broken that pattern, thereby "making soccer history," in the organizers' felicitous phrase.
Instead, we have an equally intriguing, if not historic, game between Brazil and Italy. Have they met in the past? Indeed they have. . . .
JUNE 16, 1938
Italy 2, Brazil 1
With a frightened Europe moving inexorably closer to war, the third World Cup was played in France, providing a brief couple of weeks of pleasure in a time of grave uncertainty.
The Italians were the defending champions, having taken Benito Mussolini at his word when he sent the team a telegram before the 1934 final saying "Win or die!"
The Brazilians were another of the favorites and had in their ranks a player of sublime skills, a man whose talents were so remarkable that he was given not one, but two nicknames.
Leonidas da Silva was his real name, but he was known as " O Homen Borracha " (the Rubber Man) for his agility and his bicycle kicks with either foot. More commonly, however, he was called " O Diamante Negro " (the Black Diamond).
His value was immeasurable. In early round victories over Poland and Czechoslovakia, Leonidas scored six of Brazil's nine goals.
Italy, meanwhile, went into the semifinal game against Brazil at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille confident of success. The Italians had a remarkable goal-scorer of their own, Silvio Piola, whose strength was in the air.
In an astonishing decision that even today, more than half a century later, cannot be rationalized, Brazil's coach, Ademar Pimenta, elected not to play Leonidas, explaining that he was "saving him for the final."
The Brazilians never got there, or they might have been playing for their fifth world championship today, not their fourth.
Brazil kept Piola in check but could not deny Italy, which satisfied its fans in the crowd of 35,000 by providing goals from Gino Colaussi and Giuseppe Meazza. Brazil's Romeo scored a consolation goal late in the game, but Italy was clearly the better team.
JUNE 21, 1970
Brazil 4, Italy 1
This was one of those games that time travel one day will be invented in order to see. Travelers from the future will line up in droves to return to Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on that memorable afternoon.
Brazil featured what correctly has been described as the greatest attacking team ever. In its star-studded ranks were, among others, Pele, Jairzinho, Roberto Rivelinho, Carlos Alberto and Gerson.
Italy, meanwhile, featured, among others, Giacinto Facchetti, Alessandro Mazzola, Luigi Riva and, if only as a substitute, Gianni Rivera.
As things turned out, it would not have mattered who the Italians put on the field. The Brazilians were devastating, and the crowd of 107,000 was treated to a display of offensive fireworks that has not been equaled.
It took them only 18 minutes to score their first goal, Pele rising above the defense to powerfully head home a cross from Jairzinho. It was a goal for the record books, Brazil's 100th in World Cup competition.
The Italians pounced on a Brazlian defensive error late in the first half and Roberto Boninsegna tied the score.
The second 45 minutes belonged to Brazil and, as a result, to the world. Gerson orchestrated the attack, sparking it in the 65th minute with a superbly struck shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Gerson then provided the cross that Pele headed into Jairzinho's path so that Jairzinho could make history by becoming the first player to score a goal in every round of the competition.
Leading, 3-1, Brazil completed the victory in memorable fashion when Pele sent an excellent diagonal pass to overlapping fullback Carlos Alberto, who rocketed a shot into the back of the net to make Brazil the first country to win the title three times.
JUNE 24, 1978
Brazil 2, Italy 1
Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires was the scene of the third World Cup meeting between the Brazilians and Italians, who this time faced each other in a game both would rather have avoided.
Nothing more exciting than third place was on the line.
The crowd of 76,609 favored the Italians and was rewarded in the 38th minute when Franco Causio headed in a cross from Paolo Rossi, who would make his own name four years later in Spain.
Just as in 1970, however, the second half belonged to Brazil, which tied the score in the 64th minute when a 35-yard shot by Nelinho deceived Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff, then won it 60 seconds later when Dirceu volleyed home a shot from just outside the penalty area.
Compared to their earlier clashes, this one was not nearly as exciting, but Brazil did have the consolation of finishing the tournament unbeaten even though it had to settle for the bronze medal.
JULY 5, 1982
Italy 3, Brazil 2
Played at tiny Sarria Stadium in Barcelona, the game attracted a capacity crowd of 44,000, with hundreds more watching from the rooftops and balconies overlooking the stadium.
And what a match they saw, one of the best of the 1982 tournament.
The Brazilians needed only a point to reach the semifinals. The Italians had to win to advance, so they attacked from the opening whistle and went ahead when striker Paolo Rossi headed in a center from left back Antonio Cabrini.
Undeterred, the Brazilians continued to move the ball with ease and in a casual, almost arrogant fashion. Seven minutes later, they were tied, the elegant Socrates having slotted home Zico's pass from an almost impossible angle.
A Brazilian mistake in the 25th minute proved costly when Rossi intercepted a careless pass by Toninho Cerezo and fired home his second goal.
There was no more scoring until the 68th minute, when Paolo Roberto Falcao struck a left-footed shot that tied the score, 2-2. Brazil needed only to keep the score tied for another 22 minutes and it would have made the semifinals.
But it is not in the Brazilian nature to defend--at least it was not in those days--and they continued to attack. That left the door open for the Italians to do likewise. The result was predictable.
Needing to win, Italy got the decisive goal with 15 minutes remaining when a poor clearance by Junior fell at Rossi's feet and he hammered home the goal that sent his country through to the semifinals and the Brazilians home.
Dino Zoff, the goalkeeper who had allowed Brazil two long-range goals in the 1978 game, made a superb save in the closing minutes to preserve the victory.
Brazil, as usual, was the most attractive, most adventurous, most exciting team in the tournament, but that was not enough. Italy went on to win the World Cup for a third time.
The fifth chapter in their 56-year rivalry will be written this afternoon.
Through the Years
A game-by-game recap of past meetings between Brazil and Italy (Brazil leads the series, 6-4):
Date Winner Score Competition June 16, 1938 Italy 2-1 World Cup semifinal April 25, 1956 Italy 3-0 Exhibition July 1, 1956 Brazil 2-0 Exhibition May 12, 1963 Italy 3-0 Exhibition June 21, 1970 Brazil 4-1 World Cup final June 9, 1973 Brazil 2-0 Exhibition May 31, 1976 Brazil 4-1 Exhibition June 24, 1978 Brazil 2-1 World Cup third place July 5, 1982 Italy 3-2 World Cup second round Oct. 14, 1989 Brazil 1-0 Exhibition
Date Site June 16, 1938 Marseille, France April 25, 1956 Milan, Italy July 1, 1956 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil May 12, 1963 Milan, Italy June 21, 1970 Mexico City June 9, 1973 Rome May 31, 1976 New Haven, Conn. June 24, 1978 Buenos Aires, Argentina July 5, 1982 Barcelona, Spain Oct. 14, 1989 Bologna, Italy