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Goalie Taffarel Saves Brazil's Bid for a Fifth Title

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 1998; Page C1

MARSEILLE, France, July 7 — Brazil is going back to the World Cup championship game, not because of Ronaldo's power and grace, not because of Dunga's steely leadership, not because of Denilson's breathtaking footwork. The Brazilians are going back because of veteran goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel's instinctive decisions and bony hands.

Taffarel, long labeled the weak link in Brazil's extraordinary lineup, made two sensational saves during a penalty-kick tiebreaker tonight, helping Brazil defeat the Netherlands, 4-2, in penalty kicks following a 1-1 tie through regulation and sudden-death overtime at Stade Velodrome.

Taffarel dived to his left to stop Phillip Cocu's attempt in the third round and dived to his right to get a hand on Ronald De Boer's bid in the fourth. His teammates took care of the rest, converting 4 of 4 attempts as Brazil built an insurmountable advantage before the fifth, and usually final, round of penalty kicks.

The Brazilians reward is a place in Sunday's final against France or Croatia at Stade de France outside Paris, where they will try to win a second consecutive title and fifth overall. No other nation has won more than three World Cup titles.

"This is a victory for all of the team, for everybody," said Coach Mario Zagallo, who at game's end was wiping away tears as his team rushed toward their kneeling goalie.

"We're here to win, we're here to represent Brazil. This is our objective. This was a wonderful victory. All of the Brazilian people are celebrating. We have to wait until the final. We're only going to celebrate at the final."

For a large portion of the breezy Mediterranean night, it appeared the Brazilians might not get that chance. The Netherlands, a two-time runner-up with as many attacking components as Brazil, caused problems for the defending champions and had several invitations to seize control of the match.

Ronaldo struck 23 seconds into the second half to break a scoreless tie, but the Brazilians failed to take advantage of several excellent chances to score a second goal, which would have essentially put the game out of reach. It cost them, because in the 87th minute, Patrick Kluivert scored a dramatic equalizer with a short header.

Both sides attacked aggressively in the 30-minute overtime, but the "golden goal" never came. Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar made a magnificent save on Ronaldo's 18-yard rocket and Kluivert's angled shot beat Taffarel but rolled inches wide of the right post.

It was on to penalty kicks, the unpopular — but currently, in the minds of world soccer officials, the only realistic — method of deciding a winner. The Netherlands, with the world-class van der Sar protecting the net, seemed to have the advantage, but Taffarel made the difference.

"It's a very dreadful feeling," Ronald De Boer said. "It was a pity. We could have won, but now the dream is over."

Taffarel, 32, was in goal for Brazil's victory in penalty kicks over Italy in the 1994 World Cup final at the Rose Bowl. On that day, the Italians' misguided shots had as much to do with the result than Taffarel's presence; he made one save, and two of Italy's kicks sailed over the crossbar. Since then, he had taken a brief retirement after being blamed by the fans, media and his own soccer federation for contributing to Brazil's loss to Uruguay in the 1995 Copa America championship game.

But Zagallo stuck with him, and although Taffarel hadn't stood out by any means in this World Cup, his experience was sure to play a vital role.

"The people of Brazil are happy now," the goalie said. "We can see another championship before us."

Frank De Boer scored easily in the tiebreaker and Taffarel narrowly missed stopping Dennis Bergkamp's shot, but that was all he let pass. Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Emerson and Dunga converted for Brazil.

"To lose at this point is very disappointing, all the more so because Brazil didn't appear to be invincible, even though they have some very talented players," Dutch Coach Guus Hiddink said. "I'm happy and satisfied with the performance of our team against a great team."

Both teams played at a leisurely pace in the first half, but at times it was difficult to determine whether Brazil's hesitancy was a choice or its only option. The Brazilians, without a true playmaker, did not seem to have an attacking plan with the obvious exception of targeting Ronaldo. Twice in one possession, defenders played the ball back to Taffarel, prompting derisive whistles from the turned-off crowd.

Brazil wasted no time after the second-half kickoff, with Rivaldo finding Ronaldo for a powerful run past Cocu and a simple shot under the charging van der Sar.

Taffarel's finest save in regulation came in the 53rd minute as he pushed away Frank De Boer's rising bid from six yards.

The Dutch seemed to be losing control of the match as the second half progressed, but with time running out, a hustling Cocu beat Dunga to a loose ball and pushed it to Ronald De Boer on the right flank for a bending cross. Eight yards from the net, Kluivert rose and sent a powerful header just under Taffarel's left hand and into the goal.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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