SAITAMA, Japan – After all its troubles getting to the tournament and all the upsets around it, Brazil is back where it belongs — the World Cup final.
Ronaldo got his tournament-best sixth goal and goalkeeper Marcos protected a slim lead with several spectacular saves Wednesday night in a 1-0 victory over Turkey. It lifted a Brazilian team that barely made it through South American qualifying into its seventh World Cup final.
Waiting for the Brazilians is Germany, also in its seventh title game. The Germans, who beat South Korea Tuesday, have won three championships, one fewer than Brazil's record.
Oddly, they've never met in the World Cup, let alone for the crown of the world's most popular sporting event. That'll change Sunday night.
"We have won nothing yet. Now we have to go after the real trophy," Ronaldo said. "We have to keep our feet on the ground."
Brazil's first goal was an end-to-end piece of magic. Roberto Carlos, effective at both ends all night, chested the ball back to goalkeeper Marcos, leading to midfielder Gilberto Silva's sprint down the left wing.
He found Ronaldo, who despite being surrounded by three Turks, surprised goalie Rustu Recber with a quick, low right-footed shot. The ball swerved just enough that Recber could only get his fingertips on it before the shot rolled into the net.
"I kicked it with the tip of my foot, like Romario," Ronaldo said, referring to the star of Brazil's 1994 championship team.
The stands, packed with yellow-clad Brazilian fans fully expecting an unprecedented fifth world championship, erupted in cheers. Many danced the samba to the pounding drums and shaking maracas, clickers and whistles.
But the Turks weren't through. Marcos barely got his hands on a deflection that would have been an own goal. It was his third superb stop of the match, and he made two more moments later, including a soaring finger save on Ilhan Mansiz's floater, and a diving block of Hakan Sukur's off-balance volley.
It was Recber, however, who was under siege much of the night. The Turkish defense that blanked its last three opponents was springing leaks, and no one finds such openings the way Brazil does.
Kleberson and Edilson had point-blank opportunities. Kleberson shot right into Recber and Edilson went inches wide.
Recber even sprinted out of the net to clear a long ball that could have been a breakaway by Rivaldo.
When Brazil's second straight visit to the final was secured, the players mobbed each other, as much in celebration as relief. They hope to erase the memories of their 3-0 loss to host France at the 1998 World Cup.
Brazil avoided the upsets that have highlighted the first World Cup in Asia, just as they avoided a humiliating elimination during their worst qualifying run ever.
But this is Brazil, and it usually finds a way to get on soccer's biggest stage.
It found a way against a rugged Turkish team that tested the Brazilians before losing 2-1 in the first round on a controversial penalty kick by Rivaldo. Turkey will play South Korea on Saturday for third place, and both of those nations have much to be proud of after surprising World Cup showings.
Brazil clearly did not miss the suspended Ronaldinho, who starred in the quarterfinal victory over England. Ronaldo, sporting an unusual hairdo in which most of his head was shaved, but a patch remained in the front, supplied much of the playmaking before he was replaced by Luizao in the 68th minute.
And Luizao nearly scored three minutes later, putting a scissors kick just over the crossbar.
If not for the brilliance of the goalkeepers, the game might have been 3-3.
On Emre Belozoglu's 20-yard left-footed free kick, Marcos had to dive to punch out the ball in the 9th minute. He also made a splendid stop when Alpay Ozalan got his head to a cross from Fatih Akyel.
Then Recber put on a goalkeeper's clinic.
Ronaldo's clever pass freed Cafu on the right wing and, from 10 yards, he was foiled by Recber's lunging stop. Almost immediately, Roberto Carlos dribbled into the penalty area for a 15-yard shot that barely went wide.
And then Recber made the two best saves of the opening half. Rivaldo was alone on the left side for a hard drive that Recber sprawled to stop, only to put it on Ronaldo's right foot. Somehow, Recber stopped that point-blank shot.
He wasn't done, coming up with another spectacular diving save on Rivaldo's wicked blast, only to see the Brazilian star come right back, missing wide right by inches from 15 yards. Recber made another diving stop on Roberto Carlos, and the goalkeeper was kicked in the head by Edilson in a scramble. Recber stayed down for a few minutes, and the teams began pushing and shoving as the half ended.