The 2002 World Cup was unprecedented, but in highly predictable ways.
Held in Asia for the first time, the tournament was co-hosted by traditional enemies South Korea and Japan, who both cooperated with and attempted to outdo each other, first in stadium construction, and then in the competition itself. France, reigning world champions (1998) and European champions (2000), lost the opening game 1–0 to former colony and World Cup debutants Senegal, failed to score in their subsequent matches and went home after the group stage. It was a performance so ignominious that no one complained when FIFA subsequently abolished the longstanding tradition of automatic qualification for world champions.
In another first-round upset, Portugal was beaten 3–2 by the United States. For all the excitement surrounding Luis Figo, the star of Portugal's "Golden Generation," young Americans like Brian McBride and Landon Donovan were a more tangible menace. The U.S. carried on, drawing with South Korea and beating rival Mexico. Germany crushed Saudi Arabia 8–0 in the group stage, and met the U.S. in the quarterfinals. German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn's psy-ops denied Donovan a sure goal, and the U.S., despite dominating the match, was out. Franz Beckenbauer evaluated Germany's performance like this: "Kahn apart, you could take all of them, put them in a bag and hit them with a stick. Whoever got hit would deserve it."
Argentina, in the "Group of Death" with England, Nigeria and Sweden, was eliminated by a penalty kick from David Beckham (making restitution for his fatal mistakes against them in 1998) and went home with the Portuguese and the French.
Africa barely made an appearance after the group stage, with only Senegal continuing on; while of the Asian teams South Korea and Japan both made it into the knockout round. Japan fell first, to an occasionally thuggish, always inspired Turkey (the team that earned more red and yellow cards than any other), while South Korea eliminated Italy in the most exciting game of the tournament. After forcing the complacent Azzurri to run hard for nearly two hours, expat striker Ahn Jung Hwan, who played his club soccer for Perugia, won the match with a golden goal in the 117th minute. South Korea had a new national hero, and the hero's Italian boss, Luciano Gaucci, cancelled his contract: "I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football." Four days later, facing Spain, South Korea played another two hours, this time winning on penalties. Spain, with the last eight their second best finish since 1950, had to live with two disallowed goals. "I thought the referee would be fairer in a quarterfinal match like this," said coach Jose Antonio Camacho. "We fought to the end and went out because South Korea were luckier than us." In the semifinals, South Korea met Oliver Kahn's Germany. Michael Ballack scored the game's lone goal (only the third in six matches to make it past Lee Woon Jae), and ended their run in front of 66,625 of their drum-beating, crimson-clad, mass-choreographed fans. Guus Hiddink, South Korea's Dutch coach (and recipient of honorary citizenship), was sensibly appreciative: "They showed what support can be: a miracle mix of enthusiasm and non-violence."
Both the co-hosts were more than deserving of their success, persevering against storied sides, taking chances, defending with resolve and running harder than all the other nations in the seventeenth World Cup. If FIFA had put a pedometer on the South Korean and Japanese midfields the footfall count would have been twice that recorded by any of the fifteen European teams in the tournament. The one exception being Turkey. With the Netherlands absent (having been semifinalists under Hiddink in 1998), it fell to the Turks to play Dutch-style "total soccer." Despite a third-place finish Turkey was the second best team in the 2002 World Cup. (In consolation they got stadiums, bridges and streets named after them back home: a boulevard in Adana for left winger Hasan Sas, a park in Istanbul for coach Senol G�nes and a stadium in the seaside town of Zonguldak for midfielder Erg�n Penbe.)
The best match of the tournament was the quarterfinal between England and Brazil, which contained equal quantities of intensity, beauty and luck. Michael Owen scored with characteristic elegance on a blistering run after a Brazilian gaffe in the 22nd minute, and England led until first half injury time, when Rivaldo equalized on a Ronaldinho assist. A minute into the restart Ronaldinho delivered an incredible, foot-of-God-like goal from a free kick from midfield. Despite three substitutions, and another forty-seven minutes, England couldn't get through Roberto Carlos and the Brazilian defense.
After the game David Beckham visited the winners' locker room, and (according to Sports Illustrated) this exchange ensued:
BECKHAM: Hi, sorry. I just wanted to know if Ronaldo wanted to swap shirts with me.
ROBERTO CARLOS (listening): I already traded shirts with him.
RONALDO (returning with a jersey): Beckham just gave me his.
The game was so good, Beckham traded shirts twice.
Before the inevitable letdown of the final, some illuminating statistics:
Top foulers: Dietmar Hamann of Germany and Cafu of Brazil, tied at 19. Top tackler: Torsten Frings of Germany, who efficiently broke the ﬂow of fifty-five opponents (though Slovenia's Zeljko Milinovic, eliminated at the group stage, had the most tackles per hour on the pitch: an astounding 7.33). Most goal saves: Rüstü Receber of Turkey: 34. Most goals allowed: Mohammad Al Deayea of Saudi Arabia: 12. Brazil's Ronaldo took the most shots on goal, 21, but couldn't claim a single assist. South Korea's Seol Ki Hyeon was most often tackled (79 times). Nobody took more shots than Paraguay's Nelson Cuevas, who averaged 8 per game. Italy's Francesco Totti was the tournament's least (and most!) disciplined player, with 18 fouls, 3 yellow cards and 1 red card.
The final was not only significant as the first meeting between the two most successful nations in World Cup history, Germany and Brazil, but as the last to be adjudicated by Italian referee Pierluigi Collina, the greatest, and with his oddly winning absence of any facial hair, most charismatic ref on the FIFA lists.
Germany, crippled without red-carded playmaker and current captain, Michael Ballack, had to rely on Oliver Kahn's perfection in goal, while praying for Brazilian mistakes. Neither were forthcoming. Ronaldo slipped one past Kahn in the 66th minute, off a Rivaldo ricochet—delivered at such close range that the German blocked but couldn't hold it—and then again in the 78th. Ahead 2–0, a cocky Brazil brought some substitutes into the game—Juninho, only on for five minutes, looked certain to score—and it became obvious that the champions had the world's two best teams. A better final would've been Brazil starters v. Brazil bench.
Kahn took home the Golden Ball trophy, as the player of the tournament, on the basis of his prior performances. (Before Ronaldo, only Ireland's Robbie Keane had been able to get one past him.) Analyzing the Brazilian's first goal Kahn told the press: "My one and only mistake in seven matches. But that one mistake was brutally punished." For his eight goals Ronaldo took the high-scorer's Golden Shoe.
In celebration, the South Americans used the largest stadium in the world's only Shinto-majority country to produce what must have been the highest rated bit of televangelism in broadcast history, as Kaká, Edmilson and Lucio ripped off their jerseys, revealing undershirts that read—in Portuguese and English—"I belong to Jesus" and "Jesus loves you." Other Brazilian players danced in a conga line. Now, God be praised, they could break the forty days of celibacy imposed by coach Luis Felipe Scolari. As Ronaldo told reporters: "Sex I am going to do in a few moments, but nothing can be so rewarding as the World Cup."
They had won all seven of their games, and an unprecedented fifth world championship: a pent-campeão!
Despite their victory, they'd still have to go through qualification four years later.