History of the World Cup: 2002 – Asia and the next frontier

Brazil's Ronaldo, centre, is well marked by Belgian players at the 2002 World Cup.

The World Cup went to Asia for the first time in 2002, and while South Korea captured the hearts of the locals and neutrals, Brazil ended up winning its fifth title.


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.

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. 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. 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.

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The top two teams from each of the eight groups advanced to the knockout round.


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 Germany, having to make do without the talented Michael Ballack (suspended), 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. And 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. Goalkeeper Oliver 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.

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. 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.


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


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 German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.


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.


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.


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 quarterfinals, 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.


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.


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 quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time in 2002.


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 during their first-round match.


Aside from deciding which country would host the opening match and the final, Japan and South Korea 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 (“Corée” 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).


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.


After upsetting France in the opener, Senegal went on to the second round where they beat Sweden via golden goal to become only the second African nation to reach the quarterfinals.


• 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.

• Since the introduction of the modern format of the World Cup in 1954, only two other defending champions failed to make it out of the opening round: Brazil in 1966, and Spain in 2014.

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