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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Deadly Striker Partnerships: Romario and Bebeto (Part 2 of 2)

“We understood each other really well, the moves came off naturally, I always seemed to know where he was on the pitch and he also always knew where to find me. It was perfect.”

--Bebeto on his strike partnership with Romario at the 1994 World Cup

It was the fourth of July, 1994. Brazil had drawn their lot against team USA, on the U.S.’s home soil at the Stanford Stadium, Stanford University in the second round of the World Cup. Even though the U.S. lacked the international experience of the Selecao, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira and the Brazilian team knew it would be a difficult match given the blistering heat, the fitness of the U.S. team, their keen competitive spirit and home field advantage. As the first half unfolded, the U.S. defended well and in numbers. To make matters more complicated for Brazil, key winger Leonardo uncharacteristically received a red card for an elbow to the face of Tab Ramos in the 43rd minute. But despite Leonardo's red card, Brazil quickly began to dominate possession and create high percentage goal scoring opportunities as the team surged forward in numbers down the center and through both flanks. In Bebeto's words, the team went from “strength to strength” following Leonardo’s dismissal and continued to create chances despite the U.S. tactic of defending in numbers and waiting for opportunities to counter-attack. In the second half, Romario dispatched several dangerous shots on goal that either narrowly missed the mark or were deftly denied by a posse of U.S. defenders. But in the 70th minute, Brazil finally broke the stalemate. Romario picked up the ball yards ahead of center circle and dribbled toward the penalty box, attracting a cluster of defenders in the process. He then proceeded to dish off the ball to Bebeto who was steaming down the right flank in a play that recalled Pele’s famous pass to Carlos Alberto in the fourth goal against Italy in the 1970 World Cup final. The sprinting Bebeto struck the ball past Tony Meola from a narrow angle to score the winning goal that would send Brazil into the quarter-finals against Holland.

Romario’s dish to Bebeto epitomized the beautiful understanding they developed and displayed throughout World Cup 1994. Brazil opened its scoring account against Russia with a Bebeto corner that Romario toe poked into the bottom right corner of the net. And in Brazil’s second group match against Roger Milla’s Cameroon, fans witnessed a similar interplay between Romario and Bebeto with Romario charging forward amidst a swarm of defenders toward the goal mouth, only to encounter a sliding goal keeper that deflected the ball away from Romario, leftwards into the path of the opportunistic Bebeto who made no mistake in putting the ball in the back of the net.

In the quarterfinals against Holland, it was Bebeto’s turn to assist Romario by steaming down the left flank on a counter-attack and crossing to his leaping strike partner, who timed his jump to perfection by volleying the ball home for a 1-0 lead. Ten minutes later, with 27 minutes remaining, Bebeto latched onto a magnificent through ball that split the Dutch defense, side-stepped the keeper and soundly dispatched the ball into the bottom right corner of the net. In one of the more memorable goal celebrations in soccer history, Bebeto approached the goal line and rocked his hands together in the motion of rocking a cradle in celebration of the birth of his son Mattheus of two days ago, the only child for whom he had been unable to be present at birth. Within seconds, Romario and Mazinho joined Bebeto in imitating the rock the cradle celebration. Any rumors of a rivalry or ill will between the two strikers quickly evaporated in the face of the glorious image of this deadly strike duo rocking the cradle to celebrate the birth of Bebeto’s child, the emerging World Cup champion Brazil and one of the deadliest strike duos in the history of international soccer.

In a post-tournament interview, Bebeto touchingly reflected on his partnership with Romario as follows:

“The partnership with Romario brought great results for the Seleção. We won everything together; we had a really good understanding. Look, in football there's always the possibility of disagreements between players, but there was none of that between us. On the contrary, we understood each other really well, the moves came off naturally, I always seemed to know where he was on the pitch and he also always knew where to find me. It was perfect. However, it would be very unfair to mention only Romario. We were the strikers and scored almost all of the goals, but it would be unfair of me to ignore Taffarel, Jorginho, Aldair, Marcio Santos, Leonardo, Zinho, Dunga, Mazinho and Mauro Silva. The entire group was crucial to winning that title. Romario and I wouldn't have achieved what we did without the help of the rest of the team. The same goes for all the rest of the delegation, from the kit-man to the masseuse. All of these people were important in helping Brazil get back to the summit of world football after a 24-year wait.”

Instinctively, Bebeto knew where Romario was and vice versa. Bebeto rightly gives credit to all of the other members of the team in bringing about Brazil’s 1994 World Cup victory. Dunga, for example, played more than a few killer passes to the pair of strikers and orchestrated attacks while commanding an almost impenetrable midfield. At the same time, Bebeto’s remarks hint at a certain “perfection” between his understanding with Romario that Brazilian soccer has yet to witness again, even in the face of such illustrious pairings as Rivaldo and Ronaldo or even Romario and Ronaldo. Given the increasingly common 4-3-2-1 formation used in modern soccer, it will be interesting to see if Mano Menezes and the Selecao of 2014—or any international team, for that matter—can resurrect a strike partnership with power and precision comparable to the deadly strikeforce of Romario and Bebeto.

Sources cited:
Bebeto's FIFA Interview

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