Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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The missing rivalry

    There is an elite group of four nations which have dominated world cup history so far. Between the four of them Brazil, Italy, Argentina and Germany (formerly West) have won 12 of the 16 tournaments staged. They are the heavyweights of World Cup football. I would discount other winners like France and England as their single victories were as host nations, and while it was still a fine achievement they would have to win another tournament on foreign soil to put themselves up there. Whilst it is true that Uruguay have achieved this, their last win was in 1950 and their decline was almost instant, to the point where they have only qualified twice in the last five attempts.

    The big four, especially in the last 30 years, have played some classic matches against eachother that have formed the kind of rivalries which are the lifeblood of all sports. In 1982 in Spain Brazil, Argentina and Italy all qualified into the same second round group, a group of death if ever there was one. It produced some fantastic matches from which Italy emerged victorious to go on and defeat the other big gun West Germany in the final. Who could deny them the trophy after beating that opposition?

    Argentina and Brazil have many times transferred their continental rivalry onto the World Cup stage, apart from 1982 they also faced each other in 1974, 1978, and 1990. Argentina also faced Italy in every World Cup from 1978-1990. The rivalry between Brazil and Italy is perhaps the greatest in the World Cup, and stretches back as far as the semi-final in 1938, when Brazil lost after resting their star forward Leonidas for an expected final. They have contested the final twice in 1970 and 1994, and also the third place playoff in 1978 and of course their epic encounter in 1982.

    You may by now have noticed that there is one glaring omission from this list, and that is matches between Germany and Brazil. There is a simple reason for this - they have never faced each other at the World Cup.

    This, to me at least, is an amazing statistic. How on earth have they missed each other, whilst the rest of the big four have slugged it out so regularly? Germany has been present at all but two of the World Cups, whilst Brazil have played in every one. Brazil has four wins and Germany has three, and each has been in six finals, and they are both pretty much involved in the latter stages of the tournament every single time. Strangely though, the two biggest footballing nations on the two biggest footballing continents on earth have never collided.

    There have been occasions though where they have literally been minutes from facing one another. How different the 1970 final might have been had West Germany not succumbed to a superhuman effort from the Italians in the semi-final, losing 4-3 in extra time in one of the greatest games ever played. Would Pele, Gerson, Rivelino et al have spun such magic against a West Germany containing the legendary Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer? It is surely the greatest match never played.

    In Mexico in 1986 they were on course to meet in the semi final, before France gatecrashed the party and beat Brazil on penalties in an epic quarter final, after 120 minutes of breath-taking football. It is an extraordinary coincidence, or perhaps it is no coincidence at all, that it has taken two of the greatest games ever witnessed to prevent a meeting between Brazil and Germany.

    So will these two giants ever meet? It is becoming harder with the passing of time. Both teams are seeded at every world cup, and generally win their group at every world cup, so the earliest they are likely to meet in the now 32 team tournament is the quarter finals. Given the current state of both national teams, that wouldn't be a very safe bet for the next world cup. Brazil are struggling to qualify at all and have just recently been humbled by tiny Honduras at the Copa America, whilst the well of German talent that has over the last 30 years produced Beckenbauer, Muller, Netzer, Rummenigge, Matthaus, Voller and Sammer seems to have abruptly run dry.

    However, you cannot help but imagine what a contest it would produce. Would the Germans with their stereotype efficiency shut down Brazil and dominate them? Or would Brazil cast off their shackles of the last few years and cut through the German defence with ease? It would certainly be an enthralling contest.

But will we ever see it?



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