The FIFA World Cup 2002 in Korea and Japan was replete with sporting surprises. The spectators saw thrilling games, the atmosphere in the stadia was electric, and the fans’ behavior was exemplary. It was, in many ways, a unique tournament.
17th FIFA World Cup
Brazil won their fifth World Cup title, but it was not only Ronaldo and his teammates who had a reason to celebrate. Italian referee Pierluigi Collina places the whistle between his lips for the last time and sounds the end of a match with over a billion people glued to their television screens in some 200 different countries. The final of the 17th FIFA World Cup is over.
The Brazilians erupt with joy in front of the 69,000 crowd, leaving the Germans heaped on their knees or prostrate on the ground. Brazil 2 Germany 0. These two giants, occupying first and second place in the all-time ranking and having contested seven World Cup final matches each, had met for the first time in a World Cup final competition.
Ronaldo, with his two strikes, was the outstanding figure in the best World Cup final for years – a rousing finale to a truly memorable championship.
The World Cup 2002, therefore, continues to be dominated by South American and European prowess. So far, South American teams have won the World Cup nine times and Europeans eight. South America has appeared 13 times in a World Cup final, and Europe 21 times, no less.
A very impressive record indeed. The FIFA World Cup 2002 in Japan and Korea will go down in history as the first World Cup in the new millennium, the first World Cup in Asia, the first World Cup organized by two hosts, and the most costly World Cup of all time.
But the event kept grabbing the headlines in the world’s press because of one sporting shock after another. Never before have so many favorites been toppled at a World Cup as in Asia. Defending champions France struck the post five times in their three group matches, but not once did they find the net.
Coach Roger Lemerre’s star-studded squad, who had won the European Championship two years previously and the FIFA Confederations Cup a year ago, were forced to pack their bags after two defeats and one draw. “Goodbye the blues”, hailed French newspapers. The tournament had experienced its first big tremor.
Several Flickering Stars In World Cup 2002
Argentina, invincible in the South American qualifying round and mooted by pundits to be top favorites for the title alongside France, was another giant to crash out in the group stage. They were soon joined by African champions Cameroon and Portugal (third in EURO 2000), and then Poland – the first of the European teams to book their tickets to Asia.
The group stage also spelt curtains for Nigeria. Football experts around the world shook their heads in disbelief.
How could such exceptional talent as Zinedine Zidane, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Juan Sebastián Verón, Gabriel Batistuta, Hernán Crespo, Luis Figo, Manuel Rui Costa, and Emmanuel Olisadebe have already gone home or on holiday before the action had started?
Many experts, including Franz Beckenbauer, pointed out that many top players were already exhausted when they arrived at the World Cup and could therefore, never have played in top gear. Because their teams could not compensate for this lack of power, they fell to supposedly weaker outsiders.
The next to feel the brunt were the idolized Italians (in the round of 16) and Spaniards (in the quarter-finals), both of whom faltered in the wake of two sparkling displays from the Koreans and grumbled about some refereeing decisions.
But who is to blame for the early departure of the favorites and stars? France, for instance, was self-critical and found fault with their World Cup training program before the tournament.
Cameroon’s German coach, Winfried Schafer, attributed his team’s disappointing performance to serious shortcomings in preparing for the World Cup. Schäfer criticized the fact that Cameroon had arrived in Japan too late – only a few days before the first group match – and that the trip to Asia had been full of hitches and had taken over 40 hours.
FIFA President Joseph Blatter claims that the national associations are largely to blame for so many burnt-out players. They had known the timing of the World Cup for years. They should have scheduled their championships to finish earlier to give the players a break they needed and to ensure the best possible training program for the World Cup 2002 final competition.
Blatter’s views are shared by many football experts – and players too. Ronaldo, leading goalscorer with eight goals and one of the most outstanding players of the tournament, says that top footballers are made to play too many championship matches for their club and their national team – often entailing exhausting trips to far-flung corners of the earth – so that the quality of play and the players automatically suffer.
Ronaldo himself felt the strain of a World Cup after an interminable and exhausting season. FIFA’s World Player of the Year in 1996 and 1997 managed to keep his tiredness under control with daily physiotherapy and massage.
Ronaldo’s spectacular comeback to the world’s elite after two serious injuries to the right knee and almost two years of forced rest was one of the most exciting stories at this World Cup.
But the millions of television viewers and fans in twenty state-of-the-art stadia in Korea and Japan witnessed other thrills and spills during World Cup 2002.
World Cup 2002 Debutants
The meteoric rise of World Cup debutants Senegal, for example, beat France 1-0 in the opening game and then cruised into the quarter-finals. The squad, coached by Frenchman Bruno Metsu, lost out to the Turks by a whisker and thus missed the claim to fame of being the first African team to advance to the semi-finals of a World Cup.
The Turks, with a refreshing display of attacking football, made it to the last four and upset the apple cart by coming third. They overcame Korea 3-2 in the play-off for third place, with Hakan Sükur’s opening strike after only 11 seconds of play going down in history as the fastest ever.
Back in Turkey, there was a dam burst of jubilation for coach Senol Günes’ team, and hundreds of thousands of fans turned out to cheer their heroes upon their return from World Cup 2002.
Top Marks For The Hosts
But that was nothing compared to the euphoria surrounding the Korean team. The Koreans, who had never before won a World Cup game, battled through to the semi-final stage before they succumbed to Germany 0-1.
They had been preparing for this championship for months under the rigorous regime of Dutch coach Guus Hiddink. But it was well worth the effort. Exuding self-confidence, the players were extremely fast and played tactically clever, daring, and attacking football. Local fans, not to mention foreign visitors and experts, were filled with wonder.
Korea won again and again – and the whole country wept tears of joy. It seems that ten million red T-shirts bearing the slogan “Be the reds” were snapped up during the tournament and the national team’s fan club burgeoned to 300,000. After Korea’s triumph over Spain in the quarter-finals, 3.5 million people took to the streets to celebrate.
And not one incident of vandalism was reported. In fact, this World Cup was devoid of any security alarms, and there was no trace of hooliganism. The two local organizing committees, KOWOC and JAWOC, the Korean and Japanese Governments, and FIFA had all taken precautions to ensure everything would run perfectly.
All in all, 55,000 security people were in action in both countries. There was no serious incident to report because fans from all corners of the globe behaved impeccably, a fact that was rightly applauded by Lennart Johansson, FIFA Vice President and chairman of the World Cup 2002 Organising Committee Korea/Japan:
“The fans at this World Cup have shown that the people inciting violence at football matches are not football fans at all but troublemakers with no interest in the game whatsoever.
The wonderful way all of the supporters behaved helped to turn this into such a fantastic World Cup.”It was not only the fans who earned top marks but also the World Cup hosts.
From a logistical point of view, the championship was a gigantic undertaking – the biggest ever in the history of the World Cup – and the hosts, KOWOC and JAWOC, the Korean and Japanese football associations, and FIFA, rose to the challenge splendidly.
The championship organization was highly commended by officials, spectators, guests, media reporters, coaches and players.
So in Korea and Japan, it was not only the Brazilians who had cause for jubilation.
Korea is the first Asian representative to advance to a World Cup semi-final. Korea orchestrated the biggest sporting upset of the tournament. Japan was also convincing but failed to make it past the round of 16. But with three defeats each, Saudi Arabia and World Cup debutants China PR was way below expectations.
World Cup 2002 Continent Summary
CAF (5 participants)
A stupendous World Cup debut for Senegal (quarter-finals), whose attacking spirit won them many friends and whose opening game victory against France immediately set the tone for the rest of the tournament.
On the other hand, the record for the other African representatives was disappointing.
Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tunisia were all eliminated in the group stage. The most unexpected blow was the early departure of African champions Cameroon.
CONCACAF (3 participants)
Although Costa Rica went home early after the group stage, the Central American team dazzled the crowds with an elegant display of football. They were the only team to score twice against subsequent world champions Brazil.
The USA played superb football, breezing past Mexico in the round of 16 but only just failing to overpower Germany – or, rather, the splendid German goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn. The USA was one of the most positive surprises of the World Cup 2002.
CONMEBOL (5 participants)
Brazil won their fifth World Cup, and CONMEBOL came up with their ninth world champions. But not all of the South American representatives were convincing. To everyone’s surprise, Argentina was shown the door at the group stage.
Uruguay suffered the same fate despite putting up a heroic fight against Senegal (3-3) in the last group match after being three goals down; just one more goal, and they would have made it to the round of 16. Paraguay progressed to the round of 16 but came unstuck against Germany.
Ecuador gave a good account of themselves as World Cup debutants, notching up their first victory, but the tournament was over for them after three games.
UEFA (15 participants)
Germany in the final and Turkey sensationally in third place – Europe can be satisfied with its teams’ performances in the frontline of the action. But not every European representative was as strong in defense as Germany or as creative as Turkey.
France’s premature knockout was a major shock and bitter disappointment. Equally surprising was that Italy (round of 16) and Spain (quarter-finals) both succumbed to Korea and neither Portugal nor Poland survived the group stage.
The two Scandinavian representatives, Denmark and Sweden, on the other hand, were more convincing, ending up top of their respective groups. But they both lost their match in the round of 16 of World Cup 2002.
For the first time in the history of the World Cup, five of FIFA’s confederations were represented in the quarter-finals.