In the build up to this year’s World Cup in Brazil, I am doing a series of pieces recounting my memories of World Cups gone by, as well as a preview for this year’s tournament which kicks off on June 12th. Other posts:Italia 90, USA 94, France 98, Germany 2006
The World Cup in 2002 could not have arrived at a better time for me, as it started a few weeks after I had finished the exams for my final year of University, but I was still on campus for the first round with nothing to do but to get up early to watch the games in the bar. Half way through the tournament, I headed to Northern California for a couple of weeks to visit some relatives, which meant that I was viewing the quarter-finals onwards at very strange hours, with the impression that I was the only person who cared about the World Cup for many miles around. It also resulted in me being nonplussed when England did exit in the last 8, since staying up until 2am to watch the match on the edge of the Redwood Forests enabled me to be removed from the usual nationalistic euphoria that accompanies the national team, especially as they approach the latter stages of a major tournament. Full disclosure: the final started at 4am on the west coast and, despite my best efforts to set enough alarms to wake up in time for the kick off, I only managed to join the game at half-time – though the second-half was when both of the goals were scored. That is jumping ahead however, so let’s start off with not the group stages, but a game nine months before the World Cup even began.
Germany 1 – 5 England – September 1st, 2001
“Five one, even Heskey scored” became the refrain from the England fans to taunt the Germans, who were thrashed on their own turf in a qualification game for the 2002 World Cup. Sven Goran Eriksson – the country’s first non-English national team manager – was hailed as a genius who was going to lead the nation back to World Cup triumph once again; while Michael Owen – who had continued his progression from the boy wonder tag he had earned when he scored the fantastic goal against Argentina in 1998 – scored a hat-trick against Germany. The fact that the opponents were nothing like the quality of their predecessors – who had knocked England out of the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championships on penalties – did nothing to abate the enthusiasm in the nation, especially as it marked the second consecutive competitive victory over Germany, after they had failed to achieve any between 1966 and 2000.
However, I was in a completely different place, both figuratively and literally, to enjoy that victory for the country in which I was born. I had spent the summer of 2001 in western Massachusetts, working on a summer camp and had then spent a couple of weeks touring the north-east; based in Brooklyn using an Amtrak pass to visit Philadelphia, Washington D.C, and Boston. Towards the end of my trip, I decided to pay for a flight up to Buffalo so that I could see Niagara Falls, a decision that meant my funds for the summer ran out a couple of weeks earlier than I had originally planned for, so I changed my flight home from September 15th to the 1st. Obviously there ended up being major benefits to my leaving New York when I did, but at the time the only relevance the alteration of departure date had to me was an early end to the best summer of my life. I did not even realize that I was flying home during the England vs Germany match and I think I remember hearing people talking about the result on the airplane, but it is possible that I did not find out the score until I landed at Heathrow Airport and saw the jubilant headlines on all of the newspapers. Of course, that result did not actually gain qualification for England to the World Cup and they had to come from behind to earn a 2-2 draw against Greece to clinch the place, with David Beckham earning his own redemption for the red card from 1998 as he scored from a free-kick in the final minute of injury time.
In the build up to the finals, Beckham was injured while playing for Manchester United in a Champions League quarter-final on April 10th, a matter of weeks before the World Cup was to start on May 30th. Not only were England’s hopes considered to be riding on how quickly the midfielder could recover, but everyone in England learned the word “metatarsal”, especially when Gary Neville suffered a similar injury that ruled him out of the squad for South Korea and Japan. My fervor for the England team had diminished as I could only stand the disappointment of being a Spurs supporter if I did not take the travails of the national side too much to heart, plus my enthusiasm had been decreased even further in 2001 when Sol Campbell – an important defender for both club and country – had defected to arch-rivals Arsenal. That is probably enough background however, so onto the tournament itself – the first not only to be held in Asia, but also to have co-hosts as matches were played in Japan and South Korea, both of whom were given an automatic place in the competition.
Group A: 1. Denmark; 2. Senegal; 3. Uruguay; 4. France
In the opening match of the tournament, France – who were the reigning World and European Champions – were upset by Senegal, who were considered rank outsiders, but should not have been given that they had made the final of the Africa Cup of Nations the previous January. One of the stand out players for Senegal was El Hadji Diouf – who would go on to have a controversial career in the Premiership, one known for spitting as much as his talent, for Liverpool, Bolton, Sunderland and Blackburn – but in the summer of 2002, his pace and trickery put opponents on the back foot. It was Diouf who set up the only goal of the game against France, beating a defender before putting the ball into the middle for Papa Bouba Diop to put away, giving Senegal – who were managed by Frenchman Bruno Metsu – a stunning upset similar to the one Cameroon had recorded over Argentina in the first match of Italia 90.
Things went from bad to worse for France, as they were lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw against Uruguay, having had Thierry Henry sent off in the 25th minute and they needed a man-of-the-match performance from goalkeeper Fabien Barthez to get the point; then they were beaten 2-0 in their final group match against Denmark. France’s return of just a single point and no goals scored at Japan/Korea 2002 was the worst for a defending champion at the next World Cup. The victory for the Danes confirmed their place in the last 16, after they had beaten Uruguay in their opening fixture, before drawing with Senegal in the second. The African country also progressed to the knockout stages after an enthralling draw with Uruguay in the final group game – 12 players were booked in the match, while Senegal threw away a 3-0 lead and only just held on for a point when the South Americans missed a golden chance to make it 4-3 in the final seconds. The only consolation for the Uruguayans was that they had scored two of the goals of the tournament despite their elimination: Dario Rodriguez’s strike against Denmark; and Diego Forlan’s cracking effort against Senegal.
Group B: 1. Spain; 2. Paraguay; 3. South Africa; 4. Slovenia
Slovenia were playing in their first World Cup as an independent nation, following the breakup of Yugoslavia, but they had already played in one major tournament as they qualified for the European Championships in 2000. There, they had lost to Spain in the group stages and they suffered the same fate in the 2002 World Cup, as the Spanish beat them 3-1 en route to a perfect opening round, while Slovenia lost all three of their matches and were eliminated from the tournament. South Africa were unfortunate to miss out on the knockout rounds, as they came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Paraguay in their first match, beat Slovenia 1-0, then twice equalized against Spain before ultimately losing 3-2. Because Paraguay won 3-1 against Slovenia in their final group match – having been 1-0 down at half-time – they progressed to the second round on goal difference and South Africa were knocked out of the World Cup.
Group C: 1. Brazil; 2. Turkey; 3. Costa Rica; 4. China
Four years on from his no-show in the final against France, Ronaldo had a lot to prove in 2002, especially as he had also missed considerable playing time – and much of Brazil’s beleaguered qualification campaign – due to ruptured knee ligaments. In the group stages, Ronaldo showed signs that he was back to his phenomenal best as he scored four times in three matches, including the equalizer against Turkey in the opener, after Brazil had fallen behind at the end of the first half to a strike by Hasan Sas. There was an element of fortune to the South American’s first victory, as their winner came from the penalty spot in the 87th minute, though the foul by Alpay Özalan – for which he was sent off – had clearly been committed outside of the area. Further controversy followed in stoppage time, when Hakan Ünsal was shown the red card for kicking the ball petulantly at Rivaldo, who reacted as if the ball had smacked him in the face, when it had clearly hit his elbow. Brazil’s next two games were comfortable 4-0 and 5-2 victories against China and Costa Rica respectively and that heavy defeat for Los Ticos cost them a place in the second round, as Turkey edged through on goal difference.
Group D: 1. South Korea; 2. USA; 3. Portugal; 4. Poland
Although this was their first World Cup since 1986, there were high hopes for Portugal to go far in 2002 as they had a group of talented players dubbed the “Golden Generation”, headlined by the prodigious talent of Luis Figo. However, within 35 minutes of their opening game, Portugal found themselves 3-0 down against the United States, as Bruce Arena’s side confounded all pre-match expectations. It did not prove to be a simple victory for the USA, as Beto pulled one back for Portugal before half-time, then Jeff Agoos put the ball into his own net in the 71st minute, leaving the Americans hanging onto their lead for the rest of the match. They did manage to take the three points and claim one of their best ever World Cup results. In the other opening fixture in the group, South Korea won a World Cup game for the first time in their history as they beat Poland 2-0; then the hosts drew 1-1 with the United States, while the Poles were beaten 4-0 by a resurgent Portugal. That left the group finally balanced heading into the final two matches and South Korea’s hopes of not being the first host nation eliminated in the first round were aided when Joao Pinto was sent off for Portugal in the 27th minute for a reckless challenge in the middle of the pitch. The Portuguese were reduced to 9 men in the second half when Beto was also sent off and, five minutes later, a goal by Park Ji-Sung gave South Korea a victory that meant that they topped Group D and they were joined in the knockout stages by the United States, who qualified despite losing 3-1 to Poland in their third game.
Group E: 1. Germany; 2. Republic of Ireland; 3. Cameroon; 4. Saudi Arabia
There were low expectations for Germany heading into the World Cup, after a disappointing performance at the European Championships in 2000 and that thrashing by England in the qualification round for the tournament. Aside from midfield general Michael Ballack and goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, there were no standout players in the German squad, who lacked the star quality of their predecessors. However, in their opening fixture Germany put eight goals past Saudi Arabia, including a hat-trick for Miroslav Klose – who could this summer become the all time leading scorer in World Cup history (he is on 14, one behind Ronaldo for the most ever and is Germany’s only recognized striker heading to Brazil). The Germans were denied an early qualification for the next round in their second match against Ireland, as Robbie Keane struck in the second minute of injury time to cancel out Klose’s first half effort and earn a point for the Republic of Ireland, who had also drawn their opening fixture against Cameroon.
With everyone beating Saudi Arabia, the point against Germany was enough for Ireland to take second place in the group, as Cameroon were beaten by the eventual finalists and were eliminated in the group stages for the third consecutive World Cup. Qualification for the Round of 16 was a particularly impressive performance for the Republic of Ireland, who had been in turmoil in the build up to the start of the tournament as their captain, Roy Keane had been sent home after he had complained about the team’s preparations to a reporter and then told his manager, Mick McCarthy “I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager and I don’t rate you as a person”, adding “you’re a fucking wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse”. Oh captain, my captain.
Group F: 1. Sweden; 2. England; 3. Argentina; 4. Nigeria
Prior to the start of the 2002 World Cup, France were considered the favorites to win the trophy, while Argentina were ranked just behind them in the list of likely champions. Despite that billing, both ended up exiting early, although at least Argentina not only managed to score a goal, but also picked up a win in their opening match, as they beat Nigeria 1-0. England had started their campaign with a 1-1 draw with manager Eriksson’s home country Sweden – their goal being scored by Spurs traitor Sol Campbell, which made it pretty much impossible for me to celebrate – and so when they played Argentina in their next game, a loss would have meant almost certain elimination from the tournament. In a rematch of the second round encounter from 1998, England were able to get their ultimate revenge: winning 1-0 via a penalty – having been beaten four years earlier in a shootout – scored by David Beckham, who earned redemption for his red card in France. With both of the final group matches ending in draws, Sweden and England progressed to the latter stages on five points each, with the former taking top spot due to having scored more goals.
Group G: 1. Mexico; 2. Italy; 3. Croatia; 4. Ecuador
With Argentina and France already eliminated, Italy were nearly the third big named team to be making an early exit from the tournament, as they only secured their qualification to the second round at the end of the final round of group fixtures. Things had started well for the Azzuri, as they beat World Cup newcomers Ecuador 2-0 in their first match, with Christian Vieri scoring both; but then they lost 2-1 to Croatia in their second contest. Mexico had won both of their first two games and only needed a point against Italy to assure their qualification, while the Italians assuming they would need a win to progress. However, a surprise defeat for Croatia against Ecuador meant that a 1-0 loss would still have seen Italy make the second round and a late equalizer from substitute Alessandro Del Piero eased Italy’s nerves and earned them a point against Mexico and second place in the group.
Group H: 1. Japan; 2. Belgium; 3. Russia; 4. Tunisia
Co-hosts Japan followed South Korea’s lead and avoided becoming the first nation to be holding the World Cup who failed to qualify for the second round. Having lost all three of their games in their first World Cup in France four years earlier, Japan picked up their first point in the competition in their opening match against Belgium in a 2-2 draw; then recorded an impressive 1-0 victory over Russia five days later. With the hosts beating Tunisia 2-0 in their final match, Russia only needed a point against Belgium to finish second in the group, but the Belgians won a thrilling contest 3-2 to claim the final spot in the last 16. Tunisia’s exit at the group stage meant that Senegal were the only African nation made it past the first round, with Nigeria, South Africa and Cameroon all taking early flights home.
I saw very little of the Round of 16 in 2002, as I was traveling to California (a 9 hour flight from London to San Francisco, followed by an 8 hour drive north to a small town 50 miles inland from Eureka where I had relatives) then recovering from the time difference, so I do not have any vivid memories of the games. My hazy recollection could also be because there was no drama for England, who recorded a routine 3-0 victory over Denmark – their biggest win in the World Cup since they won by the same margin against Poland in the 1986 tournament. Some of the other ties were more dramatic: Germany snatched an 86th minute winner against Paraguay; Senegal beat Sweden with a golden goal; while Spain and Ireland was even more of a nail biter. The Spanish had taken an early lead, but were denied further goals when three or four efforts were ruled out for offside and foul. Somehow still in the game, Ireland had a chance to draw level midway through the second half, but Ian Harte missed from the penalty spot. In injury time, Fernando Hierro was adjudged to have pulled Niall Quinn’s shirt and the referee awarded another spot kick, which this time was taken and converted by Robbie Keane to force extra time. Eventually, the match went to penalties and Spain progressed to the quarter-finals after winning the shootout 3-2.
The co-hosts had different fates in the last 16: Japan were eliminated following a 1-0 defeat to Turkey; while South Korea were on the receiving end of some very fortuitous refereeing decisions in their 2-1 victory over Italy. The Koreans were awarded a dubious early penalty, but they missed the chance and Vieri gave the Italians a 1-0 lead with a header and it appeared as though the hosts were going to be eliminated, until an 88th minute strike by Seol Ki-Hyeon forced extra time, although not before Christian Vieri had missed a great chance to win it, putting the ball over from only a couple of yards out. In the additional 30 minutes, South Korea really rode their luck: Francisco Totti was brought down in the area and the referee gave him a second yellow card for diving, when it fact it was a clear foul; then Italy were denied a glorious chance for Damiano Tommasi, who was through on goal but was flagged offside erroneously. Three minutes before the impending shootout, future Spurs left-back Lee Young-Pyo lifted a ball into the area and Ahh Jung-Hwan, who had missed the first-half spot kick, headed in the golden goal that took South Korea into the quarter-finals of the World Cup and left Italy seething at the injustices they had suffered. So incensed were they that Perugia canceled the contract of the match-winner Jung-Hwan, who had previously been on the books of the Serie A club.
In the other two second round ties, Brazil defeated Belgium 2-0 with goals from Rivaldo and Ronaldo; and USA beat Mexico 2-0, a scoreline that has now become synonymous with that fixture as the United States have recorded five “Dos a cero” victories over their neighbors in World Cup qualifying and finals.
Staying up late to watch England vs Brazil in California, I was expecting the South Americans to progress and one look at Eriksson’s team sheet would make it clear as to why: Danny Mills, Trevor Sinclair and Emile Heskey all starting, Darius Vassell and Kieron Dyer coming on as substitutes. It is not that the Swedish manager had any better options really, but given that squad of players I just could not buy into the hype that they could compete against the brilliance of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. However, in the 23rd minute Michael Owen gave England the lead and for a short while, I started to wonder if maybe the impossible could happen until, on the stroke of half-time, Rivaldo equalized for Brazil and normal order started to resume. Shortly after the break, David Seaman, who famously conceded a goal from near the half-way line against Real Zaragoza in the 1995 UEFA Cup final (scored by ex-Spurs player Nayim and the goal had a Tottenham fanzine named after it – One Flew Over Seaman’s Head) was caught off guard by a long-range free kick by Ronaldinho that went into the top corner from 45 yards out. Seven minutes later, Brazil were reduced to 10 men when (and I have not got this the wrong way around, somehow) Danny Mills was fouled by Ronaldinho, resulting in a red card for one of the best players in the world. For fouling Danny Mills. Regardless of their numerical advantage, England were unable to find an equalizer and the legend of Danny Mills and the rest of the squad had to return home following the 2-1 defeat.
In their quarter-final match against Germany, the USA were very unlucky to lose 1-0 after they had bombarded their opponents during the second half and Torsten Frings got away with handling a ball on the line, which should have resulted in a penalty and a red card. Had it not been for a brilliant performance by Oliver Kahn, the USA would probably have made it through to the semi-finals of the tournament, but instead they were shut out and Germany progressed to the last four. Once again, South Korea got through on the back of some very dubious refereeing decisions in their quarter-final tie against Spain. In normal time, the Spanish had a goal ruled out for pushing when there did not appear to be any infringement, then in the extra period, another effort was chalked off when the linesman flagged for the ball going out of play, when replays showed it had not. The co-hosts did not waste their good fortune and beat the Spanish on penalties to set up a semi-final against Germany; while Turkey scored a golden goal against Senegal to earn a rematch of their group game against Brazil, but this time a place in the World Cup final was at stake.
Semi-Finals and Final
There was no saving South Korea by the officials in the semi-finals, as they were beaten 1-0 by the Germans thanks to a Michael Ballack goal, who had earlier been ruled out of the final after picking up a second booking of the tournament, but still ensured his countrymen would get to play on the biggest stage. Turkey were resilient in their match against Brazil, with keeper Rustu Recber performing heroics to keep their Rivaldo-inspired opponents at bay during the first half, but a moment of brilliance by Ronaldo broke the deadlock and put the South Americans into the final for the third consecutive World Cup.
The matchup of Germany vs Brazil could be seen as a straight contest between goalkeeper Oliver Kahn – who had been the main reason the European side had made it that far – and Ronaldo, who had found the net in every match except for the quarter-final against England. It was the latter who prevailed, making up for the nightmare he had suffered following a convulsive fit prior to the 1998 World Cup Final, as he pounced on a spilled ball by Kahn to give Brazil the lead, then doubled his tally to ensure his nation won the trophy for a record fifth time.
In retrospect, Brazil were probably the only top class team in Japan/Korea 2002, as many of the other traditionally strong countries struggled to make an impact. It can happen that a draw can open up for teams in a World Cup and suddenly the path to the later stages of the competition is not as tough as it could have been, even if there are no easy matches at that level. In 2002, that happened for both Germany and Turkey: the former facing Paraguay, USA and South Korea in the knockout rounds; while the Turks had to beat Japan and Senegal for their spot in the final four. As for Brazil, they were never really tested by any notably good opponents, but that would not worry them as they once again were crowned World Champions, thanks to the finishing power of one of the best strikers to ever play the game, Ronaldo.