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Apr 25, 2006

World Cup 2002 - Hosts Korea/Japan

In a tournament characterised by an overwhelming capacity to surprise, with virtually every underdog having their day, it seemed somehow inappropriate that the final of the 2002 World Cup was contested by two teams who between them had graced 12 of the competition's 16 finals.

Brazil, with four titles to their name going into the tournament prevailed against a decidedly average German side, with three previous wins, by two goals to nil in a match that ended how the neutrals wanted and the tournament needed.

Ronaldo got both goals; his seventh and eight of the tournament earning the striker the competition's 'Golden Boot' at the same time as slaying the ghosts of France 98.

There was, at least, one anomaly saved for the competition's denouement - player of the tournament Oliver Kahn culpable for Brazil's first, fumbling a speculative shot from Rivaldo to the feet of his gleeful strike partner. This after the indomitable German had conceded just one goal in his country's six previous matches.

Brazil's return to all-conquering form, welcome though their easy on the eye brand of football always is, was largely overshadowed by the achievements of the hosts, both on the field of play and in the slick organisation and good spirit garnered off it.

For the first time in World Cup history the finals went to Asia and, also a first, to not one but two countries; Korea and Japan setting aside past differences to jointly host one of the most successful tournaments ever, even if the standard of football on offer, at times, was not quite up to scratch, and the standard of refereeing described with alarming regularity in much less delicate fashion.

A portent of what was to come arrived as early as the opening match when newcomers Senegal dramatically upset holders France, previously considered all but unbeatable, with a 1-0 victory.

It went from bad to worse for the disappointing French as Les Bleus bid au revoir at the group stage having failed even to register a goal. A 0-0 draw with Uruguay, with Thierry Henry sent off, earned their solitary point before a 3-0 reversal at the hands of the impressive Danes ended their participation and cost coach Roger Lemerre his job.

There were other high-profile casualties at the group stage as many people's pre-tournament favourites, Argentina, felt the reaper's bony clutches in the 'Group of Death'.

A David Beckham penalty, dubiously 'won' by Michael Owen, did for the Argentines as England, and Beckham in particular, finally banished the demons of St Etienne after some traditional backs-against-the-wall defending. Nigeria finished bottom of a group headed by unbeaten Sweden, ahead of second placed England on goal difference.

If Group F had been a touch morbid then life positively flourished in Group H as co-hosts Japan successfully navigated the least challenging of paths, Russia and Tunisia offering barely passive resistance as the sport's hold on the Japanese public began to tighten its grip.

Brazil made short shrift of the opening stages by beating China - coached by Velibor 'Bora' Milutinovic, at his fifth successive finals with a different team after having managed Mexico (1986), Costa Rica (1990), USA (1994), and Nigeria (1998) - Costa Rica and Turkey.

The match against the Turks was blemished by some appalling 'simulation' (cheating) by Rivaldo feigning an injury to his face after having the ball kicked at his knees by Hakan Unsal, who was sent off for his troubles, when preparing to take a corner. The Brazilian was later fined £5,180.

Spain had an effortless time sweeping to the top of a group containing South Africa, Slovenia, taking their World Cup bow, and Paraguay who had to rely on a late goal against the Slovenians in a 3-1 win to sneak past the luckless Africans on the narrowest of margins, goals scored.

Things, however, did not run as smoothly for their opponents in the second round, Ireland. Manager Mick McCarthy and inspirational captain Roy Keane clashed over the team's preparations and, amid accusations and counteraccusations following a bust up at a meeting arranged by McCarthy, Keane was sent home in disgrace but indignant.

The Irish appeared doomed but, thanks to the heroics of namesake Robbie, they held the Germans - earlier 8-0 victors over hapless Saudi Arabia - to a 1-1 draw that ensured they would qualify behind Rudi Voller's team at the expense of traditional African heavyweights Cameroon.

Italy made hard work of qualifying from their own group after succumbing meekly to a fast fading Croatian team, third at the previous finals but showing their age, and being held by group winners Mexico.

But if any of the qualifying pools of the opening stages epitomised the summer's jamboree best it was that containing co-hosts South Korea, hotly tipped Portugal, outsiders USA and Poland.

Many feared the Koreans, under Dutchman Gus Hiddink, would struggle to win a match let alone escape the group but they were to embark on a fairytale run that would turn the nation's city streets into all night carnivals. Victory over Poland and a tough draw with USA took them to within touching distance and a humbling at the hands of the Americans for the Portuguese had turned the form book on its head. Despite defeat to already out-of-contention Poland, the US took second after Korea beat Portugal in a rancorous affair.

Korea's Park Ji Sung became an instant hero after controlling a 30-yard pass on his chest, hooking the ball over Sergio Conceicao and striking a half-volley through Baia's legs to score against nine men after Joao Pinto and Beto had been sent off, sending those in the ground and outside into raptures.

In the knock-out stages England eased past the in-form Danes in the rain of Niigata thanks to goals from Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand and Emile Heskey, raising the nation's already inflated expectations, Germany quietly stumbled past Paraguay whilst Brazil were indebted to keeper Marcos in seeing off a spirited challenge from Belgium.

Senegal, inspired by El Hadij Diouf, continued their fine run with a dramatic golden goal win over the Swedes while the Mexicans descended into petty fouling when bitter rivals USA's 2-0 lead became insurmountable in the closing stages of their encounter; goals from Brian McBride and Landon Donovan doing the damage as the US's burgeoning reputation as a mature footballing side grew.

Even extra-time was not enough to separate Spain and Ireland as penalties reared their unwanted head for the first time. Ian Harte had missed a spot kick in normal time and Robbie Keane converted another so it was with mixed feelings that McCarthy's men approached the shoot out. Iker Casillas saved twice and Matt Holland hit the bar to end the brave Irish adventure.

Both hosts played their next match on the same day and, after Japan had fallen to a very decent Turkish performance, it was left to Korea to fly the region's flag but they faced a greater ask in beating Italy.

But that they did in the most dramatic - and controversial - of circumstances. Ahn Jung-Hwan went from villain to hero after missing an early penalty but popping up to head a golden goal winner after it had looked for all the world like Christian Vieri's headed goal would be enough for the Europeans. Yet Seol Ki-Hyeon latched on to a Christian Panucci error to rap the ball into the right-hand bottom corner for a last gasp equaliser that set up the grandstand finish.

The Italians did not take defeat with good grace and Perugia, Ahn's Italian employers, through colourful chief Luciano Gaucci sacked him immediately for his act of treason saying: 'That gentleman will never set foot in Perugia again. He was a phenomenon only against Italy. I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football.'

Referee Byron Moreno, too, was not a popular figure after sending off golden boy Francesco Totti for a dive in extra time, dominated by the lively and physically resilient Koreans, when he tumbled in the box vainly searching for a penalty.

Struggling to top each party, expecting it to be the last, over a million people poured out onto the streets of Seoul alone; but it was not long before more face paint and fireworks were required, again, in some part, thanks to a benevolent official.

Spain, their quarter-final opponents, had two 'goals' chalked off, one for a debatable offside call, the second denying the Iberians a golden goal winner after an assistant referee wrongly flagged that the ball had gone out of play before Joaquin crossed for Fernando Morientes to head home.

Penalties were needed to settle the game and, after Lee Woon-Jae had saved Joaquin's spot-kick it fell, appropriately, to Korea's captain and most capped player Hong Myung-Bo to convert the winning penalty.

Korea thus became the first Asian side to make the semi-finals and added fuel to the fire of both Korean street parties and calls for reform of the method of picking match officials.

A policy of inclusion of officials from the breadth of FIFA's family meant Moreno (Ecuador), the referee from the Spanish game, Gamal Ghandour (Egypt) and Peter Prendergast (Jamaica), who had missed a legitimate Belgian goal in their match against Brazil were selected ahead of mainly European whistle-blowers with more match experience. The policy will be scrapped for Germany 2006.

Elsewhere, Turkey edged out Senegal in a match up between two largely unfancied sides, the only goal a golden one from Ilhan Mansiz and Germany, despite being second best for large passages of play, scrapped past Bruce Arena's USA to book a record ninth semi-final appearance.

With a number of the big teams fallen by the wayside the victors of England's clash with Brazil had a very real chance of ultimate glory and England expected once Michael Owen had seized on a mistake to put them one up. But a moment of brilliance from Rivaldo just before the break was followed by Ronaldinho deceiving David Seaman from distance by lobbing the ageing keeper from a free-kick.

The Brazilian was later sent off but Sven Goran Eriksson had no response to the opportunity presented and the English meekly bowed out, another chance gone.

Korea's fairytale came to an end at the hands of the German's who paid heavily for their 1-0 semi-final victory by losing Michael Ballack to an accumulation of yellow cards. A 'professional' foul when Korea looked to be building towards goal was a selfless act but one that put his side at a huge disadvantage in the final against Brazil, victors over Turkey by the same scoreline in the other semi-final.

Brazil took the honours but the people of Japan and Korea won the plaudits for the warmth of their welcome and the flawless way they conducted their responsibilities with the eyes of the world trained upon them - and for providing some breathtaking excitement and colour both on and off the field.