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Impressions from Korea/Japan 2002

    My abiding memory of this World Cup is not a superb goal or a matchwinning save even if it could have been. There was no shortage of great moments during playtime of the 64 games, but for me it was the face of Brazilian captain Cafu when he stood on that plinth with the mighty trophy in his hands waiting to lift it up. It was a magical moment before the confetti was blown out. A proud Cafu stood there high above the rest including Pelť, Beckenbauer and Mr Blatter himself and sucked in the atmosphere knowing he had captained his country to a fifth title and had the full attention from a world audience. He might as well have stretched his arms out to the side and shouted: "I'm the King of the World" and done it with far more credibility than Leonardo Di Caprio in "Titanic", but the AS Roma player just enjoyed the wonderful moment.

    Cafu made history by becoming the first man to actually play in three World Cup final matches. He is often overshadowed by Roberto Carlos - his colleague on the opposite flank - who gets extra attention for his thunderous free-kicks. Now it was Cafuís time to stand in the limelight. He had won his second World Cup and even though I will never have the opportunity to ask him, and even though people always say first time is something special, I still believe Cafu values this second title as his most precious. Cafu was only used sparingly in 1994 as cover-up for Jorginho and didnít start a game, but now in 2002 he was a keyplayer and captain for a Selec„o that had played more Brazilian than any Brazilian team since 1986. The Final was probably the 32-year-old's last appearance in a World Cup and he ended by holding the most coveted trophy in the sporting world aloft while standing on that plinth surrounded by confetti. Which player wouldnít end his career like that?

    There are plenty of other sunshine stories for the media to dig into regarding this Brazilian team - and others. Ronaldo is another one. Injury-plagued for years before finishing up as topscorer and world champion having been fit for only a few months. We all know the full story. I make him my Player of the Tournament even if he failed to dominate games like great players usually do. Rivaldo and Ronaldinho impressed more in the early stages and probably contributed a greater deal to Brazilís attack overall, but Ronaldo raised his game to another level when Brazil needed him the most. He decided games in a few flashes of brilliance. His run and unorthodox finish with his toe against Turkey in the semifinal showed how unpredictable he is. His first goal against Germany in the final showed his alertness in the penaltybox taking advantage of the slightest mistake, and his second showed the accuracy in his finishing under pressure finding that tiny gap between Oliver Kahnís reach and the goalpost. In other words; Ronaldo made the difference in the biggest games and thatís how great players become champions.

    Regarding Oliver Kahn and his heroics in this World Cup, it reminds very much of what his countryman Toni Schumacher accomplished in Mexico sixteen years ago. Schumacher was also voted Best Goalkeeper of the World Cup and had been decisive in shutting out everything throughout the knock-out stage, but failed to live up to his high standards in the final itself. Kahn like Schumacher led a team that had struggled to make a positive impression on neutral fans world wide. Every win was a big struggle. In the Yokohama final Germany had half their starting line-up unavailable. WŲrns, Nowotny, Scholl and Deisler never made the squad because of injuries and key midfielder Ballack was suspended. Had Kahn managed to lead Germany to victory over Brazil despite these obstacles, I would have rated his overall tournament performance second only to Maradona's in 1986, but Brazil's four R's proved to be too tough even for King Kahn, the tournamentís best goalkeeper.

    Even though a Germany vs Brazil game is a World Cup classic in every sense, we saw very few other Ďheavyweightí meetings in this tournament. A Turkey vs Senegal quarterfinal clash doesnít fire up footballfans the same way as an Italy vs Argentina does even if they were there on merits. The eagerly anticipated Argentina-England game didn't produce the same spectacle and quality of the previous meeting in France even if Beckham got his revenge. The most entertaining games were played in the first round, especially enjoyable was the Senegal vs Uruguay game in Suwon which finished 3-3 with Uruguay coming from three goals behind and almost win the game in injurytime.

    That match along with several others though was stamped by poor refereeing. Our columnists have been debating this over and over about South Korea having a number of dubious calls going in their favour especially against Italy and Spain, but with the increased number of cameras available at every game the errors are easy to point out now. This puts extra pressure on the match officials of course, but can they all deal with it? Can referees and linesmen from smaller countries without footballing traditions who are operating weekly in amateur leagues far away from where the best football is being played be equally prepared as the second best referee from Italy or Brazil?

    Remember that FIFA picks 36 referees from 36 different countries to fill the roster. Many top referees who are under the spotlight every weekend performing in front of +40,000 crowds in the best leagues have spent the World Cup at home watching TV at the expense of less experienced officials from obscure countries. Quality must count before geographical location in future tournaments for the sake of football.

    If the worldís five best referees are all Italian, send them to the World Cup! Forget conspiracy and bribery theories. Every referee selected to officiate at such a prestigious event as the World Cup has too much pride in his profession to sacrifice his name and reputation by favouring one team. Pierluigi Collina has set the standard for future referees with his authoritative yet friendly style. There is always a smile from Collina even in the most heated of battles.

    Unlike the bald Italian many referees on the 2002 roster didnít have a very impressive resumŤ going into this tournament. Some had the World Youth Cup as their greatest assignments. For Germany 2006 FIFA should give possible World Cup candidates from the weaker confederations a chance to lead some big games outside their own continent. Throw them into the thick of the action. Give them high profile matches in Europe or South America where the atmosphere is tense and the teams world class like you will find at a World Cup.

    To end my little rant on referees I want to add that a huge majority of the matches have been led by competent officials from all continents. All the correct decisions made by referees are always forgotten, itís the 0,1% errors that people remember. The overall impression has still been positive from my point of view. Half a dozen of games have been poorly led, true, but the remaining 55-60 or so have been staged without the referee and his assistants in a bad light. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said he will take action and make sure the match officials are better prepared for Germany 2006, and if the big man says it...

    Speaking of rules and referees. Wouldn't it be good to get rid of the Golden Goal rule by Germany 2006? Wouldn't you have liked to know how Sweden would have responded in extra time after Senegal scored that winning goal totally against run of play in the second round? Or when Senegal themselves went down against Turkey? Some of the most classic matches in World Cup history have become classics because of the extra half hour of play. Games are often opened up when goals are scored during extra time. Tired legs become even more tired when one team is chasing the equalizer and the other sitting back defending. There is always lots of drama and I welcome the extra half hour back in four years time. UEFA has gone back to ordinary 30 minutes of extra time in their competitions and hopefully the World Cup will follow after in 2006.

    Many people say we have seen a change in power between the continents in this World Cup. True, there were a record five confederations represented at the quarterfinals stage, but digging a little deeper into this yearís results we find arguments to back up that the scene is more or less the same after all. The host nations went through as they always do while Asiaís non-hosting entries Saudi Arabia and China lost all their games without scoring. Africa was one clumsy Richard Morales header away from being without entries in the second round. Particularly disappointing was Cameroon who was hyped up to reach the semifinals, but played like beginners in vital stages of keymatches even if this was their fourth straight World Cup. Roger Milla said prior to the World Cup that this was the best side Cameroon had ever had. On paper only obviously. Senegal's success in this tournament means that Africa has now sent four different countries to the knock-out stages since 1986 and that's some consolation.

    CONCACAF however can claim to be the most improved confederation despite the co-hosts good runs. Costa Rica did very well in a group which turned out to contain two semifinal teams. Mexico topped Italyís group and the US reached the quarterfinal against all odds. The CONCACAF region might well be awarded a fourth spot for Germany 2006 - or at least a Ĺ spot knowing that there are two more places up for grabs in 2006 since we have only one host and no free spot for the world champions anymore.

    The next World Cup in 2006 will start on June 9th. Thatís a week and a half later than this yearís tournament and I can only say I support it. The number of flopping stars has never been greater at any World Cup and the short break after a long tough season at club level must take some of the blame for it. Increased pressure on these players combined with hungry Ďminnowsí waiting to beat them also contributed to why so many big names failed to shine. The players need more rest after a long season and those extra days can do wonders to many teams who didnít have the time to regroup until a couple of weeks before the start of this year's tournament. By comparison, France '98 started on June 10th and USA '94 as late as June 17th.

    The South Korean team spent three months together before the World Cup and looked like the freshest and best gelled side in the tournament. I liked the South Korean team and their fervent fans in all red who created the best homesupport ever along with Argentina 1978. It is always important from the organizers point of view that the host nation performs well to keep the World Cup fever optimal. Both Korea and Japan can be proud of the tournament they hosted. French football experienced a boom in domestic attendance for their top division matches following their World Cup success four years ago. May be this yearís hosts will benefit from the same and be able to fill those stadiums also in the post-World Cup era which follows. No one will underestimate Korea or Japan when -- I say when and not if -- they qualify for Germany 2006. That is for sure.

    Life returns to normal for those of us who have watched the tournament on TV at bad hours. It has been an exciting month, hasnít it? Hasan Sas, El-Hadji Diouf, Landon Donovan and Ahn Jung-Hwan outshone Zidane, Figo, Batistuta and Maldini. It has been a World Cup unlike anything we have seen before. Never has so many new exciting names emerged in one tournament and put established stars in their shadows.

    The best thing about the World Cup -- or national team football in general -- is that you canít buy yourself to titles like we see nowadays in club football where only an elite group of clubs share titles between themselves. When the homegrown talent isnít good enough club presidents make sure they cover up by signing top foreign players. National team football has other rules and values. Itís about loyalty, pride and getting the most out of what you have. No transfers. You play for one team all your career. We see heroes welcome parties in Dakar, Istanbul and Frankfurt even if none of them had trophies to celebrate.

    The World Cup is about overcoming odds. Itís about making dreams come true. Every country has a shot at the cup. Everyone rates it as the number one prize. These are important factors contributing to making the World Cup the biggest, most watched, most exciting and entertaining event in world sport. The 17th chapter of the World Cupís glorious history has just been written.

Brazil is well deserved penta campe‚o.

    Cafu has had his moment. Iíve had mine here and Iíll end it with my World Cup Dreamteam.

Thanks for your attention.

Ronaldo C.Vieri Rivaldo R.Carlos M.Ballack C.Reyna F.Arce J.Mjšllby R.Ferdinand Hong M.B O.Kahn



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