"Brilliant Colors, Brilliant Finish"

by Bruce Jenkins

Wednesday, July 8, 1998

THE MAN in the orange Patrick Kluivert jersey was reeling, beer-sodden from a day's worth of revelry, but still crystal-clear on the truth as he chose to see it.

``He hesitated,'' the man said. ``In life, you do not hesitate.''

And in the World Cup, soccer is life.

There was a sense of justice behind Brazil's penalty-shootout victory over the Netherlands in the semifinals last night, something that speaks to the genius and relentless nature of this great team. But like so many tortured affairs in this diabolical system, there was not a losing side. Only tormented individuals. Ronald de Boer hesitated, and more importantly he missed.

Because he missed -- and Phillip Cocu, as well, in this 4-2 decision -- the Dutch must now hear the sweeping interpretations they are not willing to accept. They have lost again, another heartbreak in the tournament they have never won. They did not come through. Perhaps, some will say, they choked.

And if one of Kluivert's half- dozen shots goes in, during the first 120 minutes, the Dutch have conquered the world.

I watched this game from the streets. A World Cup credential means nothing, really, especially to American journalists. A few Euro- hardened veterans got seats in the press box, but dozens of us were herded away like cattle, allowed only in a large workroom. No matter. This is a game for the streets. I tossed a few down with the Dutch and the Brazilians alike, in a scene that captured the convivial nature of this great event. The evil hooligan forces of Germany and England are long gone now, and it's the sporting party to end them all.

From the train station in Paris to the swirl of humanity on the boulevards of Marseille, I learned one thing: Follow the Brazilians. They are everywhere. The greatest traveling fans on Earth, and they move in singing, swaying hordes toward their destination. There is much to be said for a nation that makes its every move to musical accompaniment.

It's a pretty cool thing, wearing the bright yellow jersey made famous by Pele, Zico, Socrates and Ronaldo, but as I learned last night, there are instant Brazilians. They come from Scotland, Asia and Rio de Janeiro, Kentucky. You can spot them immediately; their sense of rhythm is a little weak. In a sea of sensuous Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz, they are Lawrence Welk's rendition of ``Papa's Got a Brand New Bag.'' They are in that frozen, black socks-in-Waikiki kind of mode.

The Dutch aren't big on style, but they make up for it in orange. You spot these guys, and it's Tang all around. I saw one man with a bunch of carrots on his head. Such is the power of orange: Fresh vegetables grow right out of it. ``Anything in the world is good,'' he told me. ``As long as it's orange.''

``Damn straight,'' I replied, kicking myself for forgetting my bright-orange pants.

The major intersecting boulevards of Marseille are glorious to behold, wide and arrow-straight as far as the eye can see. Glancing above street level, you could see the real Marseille: flats and apartments without a trace of World Cup decoration. Not a flag in sight, only skeptical-looking women viewing the scene with disdain. They missed the point, it seemed. For an entire day and night, the Dutch and the Brazilians partied as one.

I settled into a little cafe where the sentiment ran about equal. The whole crowd was incredibly friendly and incredibly drunk. You can tell a great soccer game by the number of thunderous roars -- on the near-misses, right along with the goals -- and after a dull first half, this was one noisy tilt.

The second half began and Ronaldo quickly became Michael Jordan. He did what the great ones do, scoring an artistic goal on the highest stage. Dennis Bergkamp was strangely quiet for the Dutch, but Kluivert's bullets pounded a drumbeat on the Brazilian goalkeeper. Out of nowhere, songs would break out. Jaap Stam, the Dutch defender, was in rare form after a shaky few games, and the Dutch broke into his theme song:

Jaapy Stam!

Jaapy Stam-Jaapy Stam-Jaapy Stam!

I felt proud to have quickly mastered the lyrics. The flip side was dynamite, too: ``Hol-land-AH!'' forever.

A 12-year-old Brazilian kid wandered up to the bar, right into a sea of weaving, belching Dutch guys. Even in that sorry state, they warmed to the sight of him, tousling his hair. If anything, the opposing factions grew closer as the night wore on, actually singing together (``Ole!'' into eternity) at one point.

Kluivert, that vision of defiant youth, kept firing away. Finally he connected, incredibly, on a wicked header with just four minutes to play. The room thundered in its orangehood. But as the 30-minute Golden Goal time expired, there was a growing silence. Heads fell into hands and there was loud groaning in the awful anticipation of it all. Somebody was about to enter the history books here, in a bad way.

It wasn't going to be Brazil, that's for sure. Ronaldo, Rivaldo, the surprising Emerson Ferreira (where did he come from?) and finally Dunga scored, with the frightening penalty-goal efficiency so often associated with the Germans. These guys could have fired all night, with 100 percent accuracy.

For the Netherlands, the occasion was just too big. Cocu's drive was stopped authoritatively by Taffarel, the Brazilian keeper suddenly coming under the closest scrutiny. Where was Kluivert? Maybe later; we'd never know. Ronald de Boer stepped up -- make this thing or it's finished -- and for just a moment, he stopped to survey the net. The shot was weak, as it had to be, for hesitation is a terrible mistake in any language.

Back in the press tent, we could see De Boer addressing the media in Dutch. He was pulling a Dennis Eckersley, boldly standing up to his failure. ``What did he say?'' we asked a Dutch journalist standing nearby.

``It is language of the street,'' the man said. ``Basically, he said it sucks. That it's a (bad) situation. That it's over, and it's a pity.''

Taffarel was doing an interview at another corner of the stadium. They praised his calm and anticipation, and he told everyone they were wrong.

``That was God helping me,'' he said.

In soccer and in life. Here, there is no difference.