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In 2002 the World Cup, the biggest sporting event on the planet, conquered the final frontier: the Far East.

FIFA ushered in the new millennium by staging the World Cup in Asia for the first time in its 72-year history. In an unprecedented move, South Korea and Japan co-hosted the competition, another first for the beautiful game.

A ROCKY PARTNERSHIP

QUICK FACTS

  • Number of participating teams: 32
  • Top scorer: Brazil's Ronaldo (8 goals)
  • Number of games: 64
  • Total goals scored: 161
  • Average goals per game: 2.52
  • Highest scoring game: Germany's 8-0 win over Saudi Arabia on June 1
  • Total attendance: 2,705,134
  • Average attendance: 42,268

The Japan-South Korea partnership was not a match made in heaven; not at first, anyway.

Initially, both countries were direct competitors in a bitter bidding process, but at the urging of FIFA, they combined their bids and tabled a proposal to co-host the event.

Even after FIFA awarded Japan and South Korea the tournament, problems persisted, in large part due to the underlying acrimonious relationship that historically existed between the two nations.

Aside from deciding which country would host the opening match and the final, the two nations couldn't even come to a consensus on the official name of the tournament. Following the English alphabetical order, Japan wanted its named first in the title - the "Japan-Korea World Cup." South Korea argued to go by the French alphabet ("CorĂ©e" and "Japon") in keeping with the FIFA's French roots.

A compromise was eventually worked out: "Korea-Japan" was how the countries ended up being listed in the official title, and Japan was awarded the final (South Korea was given the tournament opener).

Despite a rocky start, both nations came together as one and poured billions of dollars into upgrading infrastructure in their major cities and built several new stadiums. The hard work paid off: South Korea and Japan were lauded by FIFA and soccer fans for their brilliant and efficient staging of the World Cup.

Although it did not produce the highest quality of product on the field, the 2002 World Cup did see the gap between the game's traditional powers and the middle-of-the pack nations narrow. The competition marked a new exciting era in soccer, one in which countries such as Italy, France and Argentina could no longer just walk onto the field and expect to earn a victory against traditionally weaker nations.

You needn't look any further than the opening game for evidence. Senegal, the unheralded West African nation that was making its World Cup debut, stunned France by pulling out a miraculous 1-0 victory on May 31 in Seoul.

Already without Zinedine Zidane - sidelined with an injury he picked up just days before the tournament - Les Bleus began to collapse under the strain of expectation and were held to 0-0 draw in their second game in Group A against Uruguay. Only a win by two goals against Denmark in their final game could save them.

Zidane was forced into action, but he was still hobbled by a torn thigh injury and Denmark rose to the occasion with a 2-0 victory. Senegal earned a draw with Uruguay to join the Danes in the next round.

Three games without a victory - and without a goal! - and France went home in disgrace, the worst performance at a World Cup by a defending champion since Brazil in 1966.

For once Spain, perennial World Cup underachievers, looked all business, reeling off three wins to comfortably win Group B ahead of Paraguay.

Brazil had a hard time of it in the South American qualifiers, but it began to flex its muscles once the tournament started. The mighty Brazilians outscored their opponents 11-3 in racking up three victories to win Group C. Turkey, competing at the World Cup for the first time since 1954, finished in second place ahead of Costa Rica and first-timers China.

MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT: South Korea's 2-1 victory over Italy in the second round. The Azzurri looked to have it in the bag but then Seol Ki-Hyeon scored in the 89th minute to tie the contest. Compatriot Ahn Jung-Hwan scored the "golden goal" in extra time to send South Korea through to the next round in the biggest upset at the World Cup since North Korea defeated Italy in 1966.

MAN OF THE TOURNAMENT: Ronaldo. After the debacle in the 1998 final, and all of his injury problems, nobody had a bigger point to prove than the Brazilian. The talented striker delivered on the big stage in Asia, scoring a tournament-leading eight goals to lead Brazil to its fifth World Cup title. Honourable mention to Oliver Kahn.

SPOTLIGHT: The 2002 World Cup was not without some Canadian content: Calgary's Owen Hargreaves, a defensive midfielder with German club Bayern Munich, was among the players named to England's 23-man roster.

Hargreaves broke the hearts of Canadian soccer fans in 2001 when he suited up for England's national team, pledging his international soccer allegiance to the English. 

A FIFA bylaw that allows a player to represent the birth nation of his parents gave Hargreaves the option of suiting up for England (his father's homeland) or Wales (his mother's birth nation), in addition to Canada.

After being cut by Canada's under-16 team, Hargreaves turned down several invitations by former Canadian coach Holger Osieck to play for the Canadian national side.

Despite the furor it caused amongst local soccer fans, Hargreaves wasn't even the first Canada-born player to opt to play for another country. According to soccer historian Colin Jose, Toronto's Edward Haggarty Parry was the first to do so, appearing for England on Jan. 18, 1879, against Wales.

John Van't Schip, born in Fort St. John, B.C., to Dutch parents, played for Holland at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Jimmy Nicholl was born in Hamilton, but grew up in Belfast and went on to represent Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup in Spain and again in Mexico in 1986.

AND ANOTHER THING: South Korea's miracle run in reaching the semifinals was the story of the 2002 World Cup, thanks in large part to their determined play, but luck - in the form of some controversial calls by the referees - also played a big part in their success

In the second round and the quarter-finals, Italy and Spain appeared to score legitimate goals in extra time against South Korea, only to have them nullified on controversial decisions by the linesmen and referee.

The officials' mistakes were so erroneous that many media pundits and team officials stated there was a conspiracy orchestrated by FIFA to ensure South Korea's passage through to the final.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter publicly recognized that several officiating errors were made during the tournament, but rejected the idea that there was a pro-South Korea conspiracy at work.

There were more upsets in Group D where Portugal and Poland faltered, while South Korea, surprise winners over both European nations, and the United States finished 1-2 in the group to advance.

Germany cruised in Group E. Striker Miroslav Klose netted a hat trick and playmaker Michael Ballack pulled the creative strings from midfield as the Germans demolished lowly Saudi Arabia 8-0. After tying Ireland, the Germans put away Cameroon to win the group. Ireland finished second.

In Group F, otherwise known as the "Group of Death," England exacted revenge over its loss to Argentina four years earlier with a 1-0 victory in Sapporo. David Beckham's goal from the penalty spot in the 43rd minute was the winner. That loss put Argentina behind the eight-ball, as it needed a victory in its last game against Sweden to advance. A 1-1 draw with the Swedes, combined with England's 0-0 draw with Nigeria sent Argentina, one of the heavy favourites to win it all, home early.

Italy began strong in Group G with a 2-0 victory over Ecuador, both goals coming from the dangerous Christian Vieri. However, the Italians had a goal wrongly disallowed in their next contest and lost 2-1 to Croatia. Italy tied Mexico in its last game thanks to a late goal from Alessandro Del Piero, but only managed to advance when Ecuador upset Croatia 1-0. Mexico won the group.

Japan looked solid in defeating Tunisia and Russia to finish first in Group H. Belgium finished second thanks to a 3-2 victory over the Russians in their final game.

And so to the second round where more upsets were the order of the day. Things started out innocently enough when the Germans eked out a 1-0 victory over Paraguay in Seogwipo when Oliver Neuville scored in the 87th minute. England followed that up with an expected 3-0 victory over Denmark on a rainy night in Niigata.

Sweden was in fine form in the first round, but it was ousted by a determined Senegal side in Oita when Henri Camara scored a "golden goal" in the 103rd minute to lift the Africans to a shock win.

Spain survived a scary contest against a pesky Irish side, eventually emerging victorious in a penalty shootout in Suwon. Another upset took place in Jeonju where the United States ousted CONCACAF kingpins Mexico 2-0 on goals from Brian McBride and Landon Donovan.

Rivaldo and Ronaldo continued to torment opponents as they both scored for Brazil in a 2-0 win over Belgium in Kobe, while Turkey ousted Japan 1-0 on an 11th minute goal from AC Milan midfielder Umit Davala.

It was in Daejeon where the biggest upset of the tournament - and one of the most shocking results in the history of the World Cup - took place. Italy enjoyed a 1-0 lead over South Korea thanks to Christian Vieri and looked set to claim the victory before Seol Ki-Hyeon equalized in 88th minute to give the Koreans new life.

In extra time, Italy was reduced to 10 men when Francesco Totti was controversially called for a dive in the penalty area, earning his second yellow card of the game. Italy appeared to have scored the winner minutes later but the goal was called back on a controversial offside call.

The South Koreans gained in confidence and had Italy on the rack when Ahn Jung-hwan sprinted into the box and leaped over Paolo Maldini to slam the ball into the back of the net with a powerful header in the 117th minute.

Just like in 1966, the Italians went home in disgrace at the hands of an Asian conqueror.

The South Koreans continued their miracle run with another upset victory in the quarter-finals, this time disposing of Spain in a penalty shootout in Gwangju. The result, however, was again marred in controversy.

After having goals disallowed in each half of regulation time, the Spanish had a third nullified in extra time. Fernando Morientes appeared to have netted the winner off a pass from Joaquin, but the Spaniard was ruled to have stepped over the end line as he dribbled the ball.

However, replays clearly showed that the ball was in play when Joaquin made the pass.

Senegal saw its World Cup journey come to an end, losing 1-0 to Turkey on a "golden goal" by Ilhan Mansiz. In Ulsan, Germany continued its run towards the final, posting a 1-0 victory over the United States with Michael Ballack scoring in the 34th minute, while England squandered a 1-0 lead and lost 2-1 to Brazil (goals from Rivaldo and Ronaldinho) who was reduced to 10 men early in the second half.

It was in the semifinals where Germany ended South Korea's World Cup dreams with another 1-0 victory. Oliver Kahn recorded his fifth shutout of the tournament and Ballack scored in the 74th minute for the Germans. It proved a costly victory, though, as Ballack, the creative genius in Germany's midfield, picked up his third yellow card of the tournament, ruling him out for the final.

Brazil kept rolling as Ronaldo scored his sixth goal to lift the South Americans to a 1-0 victory over Turkey in the other semifinal.

The Turks and Koreans met in the third-place game, an exciting affair - for a change - that saw Turkey beat the hosts 3-2. Both nations had plenty of reasons to be proud: South Korea became the first Asian country to reach the semifinals at a World Cup, while Turkey, playing in its first World Cup in 48 years, proved it was an emerging European soccer power.

THE FINAL

Going into the final in Yokohama, the match was being touted as a battle of contrasting styles: German pragmatism versus Brazilian flair. Many critics thought that the Germans, having to make do without the talented Michael Ballack, would sit back and soak up the pressure while Brazil would dominate the game with dazzling possession play.

Ironically, it turned out to be the other way around, as the Germans called the tune and dictated the pace of the game in the first 45 minutes. Germany stroked the ball around with great style and elegance, looking the more dangerous of the two sides.

Despite dominating possession, it was Brazil that produced the best chances in the first half. Kleberson fired a dipping shot that beat Oliver Kahn but bounced off the crossbar. Germany's best chance came when Oliver Neuville had a 35-yard free kick pushed onto the post by Brazilian goalkeeper Marcos.

Ronaldo had three clear chances to put the Brazilians ahead, but kicked the ball wide of the post on the first occasion and was thwarted by Kahn on the other two opportunities. Kahn came up with an outstanding toe save just before halftime on a cracking shot from Ronaldo, keeping the score levelled going into the break.

It wasn't long before Ronaldo came up with a bit of magic and inspiration in breaking the German resistance.

In the 67th minute, the Brazilian stripped Dietmar Hamann of the ball and made a quick pass to Rivaldo who cracked a low, driving shot towards the net. Kahn, a model of consistency so far at the World Cup, made a costly error in spilling the ball, allowing for a charging Ronaldo to scoop up the rebound and steer it into the back of the net.

Prior to Ronaldo's goal, Kahn had only been beaten once in six games.

Twelve minutes later, Rivaldo sent a right-wing cross from Kleberson into the path of Ronaldo who effortlessly slipped it past Kahn to ice the game for the Brazilians.

The result was sweet vindication for Ronaldo after Brazil's embarrassing 3-0 loss to France in the final four years earlier. There would be no denying the magical striker in Asia. The silver-booted Ronaldo finished this tournament with eight goals, winning the Golden Boot as the top scorer. He also tied the legendary Pele with 12 career goals as Brazil's top scorer in World Cup history.

It seemed cruel that Kahn, clearly at fault when he gifted Ronaldo the first goal, came out on the losing end. He was masterful between the posts in Asia, earning five shutouts and winning the Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper of the World Cup.

His miscue in the final didn't diminish the quality of his performance in the eyes of the soccer press, as the German keeper was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament's MVP.

As Brazilian captain Cafu accepted the World Cup trophy from FIFA President Sepp Blatter on the stage, fireworks and streamers went off, and the Brazilian players were soon bathed in a sea of silver confetti and flashbulbs from the crowd.

In the end, Brazil's flair and creative genius was enough to overcome the cool efficiency of the Germans as they collected a record fifth World Cup.

It will be a tournament forever remembered for its stunning upsets and its disruption of soccer's established world order. Yet, despite all of the upsets, the 2002 World Cup ended with an all too familiar scene: Brazil as world champions.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  • Incredibly, Brazil and Germany, the two of the most successful nations in international soccer, met each other for the first time at the World Cup in the 2002 final.
  • Only three other nations won all of its games en route to winning the World Cup: Uruguay in 1930 (four games), Italy in 1934 and 1938 (four games both times) and France in 1998 (seven games). Brazil won all six of its games when it claimed the World Cup title in 1970.
  • Ronaldo was the first player to score more than six goals in a single tournament since Poland's Grzegorz Lato scored seven in 1974.
  • Hakan Sukur's goal for Turkey against South Korea in the third-place game came after just 11 seconds following the opening kickoff, the fastest goal ever scored at the World Cup.
  • Teams from Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Asia reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time.
  • Since the introduction of the modern format of the World Cup in 1954, only one other defending champion failed to make it out of the opening round: Brazil, champions in 1962, finished third in their first-round group in 1966.
  • Ahn Jung-Hwan was a member of Italian first-division team Perugia at the time of his famous "golden goal" against Italy. The next day, Perugia owner Luciano Gaucci told an Italian newspaper that he refused to welcome back the Korean into the team as punishment for eliminating Italy from the World Cup. Gaucci later retracted those comments but Jung-Hwan ended up leaving Perugia and signed with Japanese team Shimizu S-Pulse.
  • In a classy gesture, Argentine midfielder Diego Simeone - the player who managed to get David Beckham sent off at the World Cup in 1998 - shook the English captain's hand at halftime as the teams left the field.
  • Australia defeated American Samoa 31-0, the largest margin of victory ever in a World Cup qualifying game.