World Cup 2002

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  • Story of Korea/Japan '02

        The new millennium arrived and so did a new era in world football. The successful tournament set-up from France '98 with 32 teams and eight groups stayed the same, but South Korea and Japan became the first two countries to co-host a World Cup, and it was also the first time the tournament was held in Asia.

        Both countries went on a major spending-spree to upgrade infrastructure in the cities and built 20 stadiums combined, most of them from scratch. As it turned out, it became a World Cup unlike anything seen in history. Debutants Senegal beat defending champions France 1-0 in the opening match in Seoul and that result pretty much symbolized what would happen during the following four weeks in the Far East.

        France, Portugal and Argentina arrived as favourites to win the title, but none of them made it past the first round. Zidane picked up an injury in a warm-up friendly days before the World Cup and missed the first couple of games. The French team collapsed without him and didn't score a single goal in either of the three games. Portugal's disastrous first half hour against the US couldn't be repaired properly in later matches and Figo's Golden Generation went home disappointed. Argentina, based in the Group of Death, lost the prestigious game against England and failed to beat Sweden which was required for advancement. Batistuta's bitter tears by the bench is already football history.

        The underdogs triumphed in great style. Turkey, Senegal, USA and of course South Korea led the way for the "new nations", but also Costa Rica and Japan surprised. Turkey's group with Brazil, Costa Rica and China, was considered by mainstream media to be the weakest of all before the tournament, but went on to contain two semifinalists including the eventual champions. England's group with Argentina, Sweden and Nigeria was supposed to be the strongest, but none of those teams survived the quarterfinals.

        Players like Ilhan Mansiz, El Hadji Diouf and Landon Donovan came from nowhere to steal headlines in media around the world, but the most unlikely hero was Ahn Jung-Hwan. South Korea's matchwinner against Italy in the second round was fired by his Italian club Perugia for insulting Italian football by scoring that goal. The Koreans also eliminated Spain in the quarterfinal after being on the receiving end of some controversial decisions by the referee. Millions of people took to the streets in cities across the country to celebrate the unlikely success of Korean football. Going deeper than Japan in the World Cup had been the primary goal, so a fourth place finish was celebrated like a World Cup victory. Japan was knocked out by Turkey in the second round.

        Asia had four representatives in the finals for the first time. Saudi Arabia and China lost all their matches without scoring a single goal and showed that Asian football below the co-hosts still had some way to go before they reached a competitive level. It wasn't the best of World Cups for Africa either. Apart from Senegal no other African team survived the group stage. Nigeria and Cameroon in particular underachieved. Cameroon only made headlines for their "basketball shirts" which were originally rejected by FIFA as uniform. To get FIFA's approval the Lions instead covered the upper-arms with some bad looking textiles to make them appear like regular football shirts.

        Despite all the sensational results that occured during June 2002 in Korea/Japan, there could be no more fitting finale to the first World Cup of the new millennium than Brazil against Germany - the two most successful nations in the history of the competition. Ronaldo against Kahn, the best goalscorer against the best goalkeeper. Ronaldo scored twice to take his goal tally to eight and become the first man to break the six-goal-topscorer-spell existing since Grzegorz Lato's seven in 1974.

        Brazil won all their seven World Cup matches and thereby set a new record. Many people doubted Brazil after struggling so much in the qualifiers, but the samba- boys led by Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo turned on the style when needed in the finals. It was a well-deserved triumph and a victory for the Beautiful Game. So was the fact that five confederations were represented in the quarterfinals of a World Cup. That might very well never happen again, but you never know with the Beautiful Game. It is always full of surprises.


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