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2002 World Cup Brought Many Surprises - 2002-12-13


Football's (soccer's) 2002 World Cup finals demonstrated that the sport's hierarchy is in a state of flux. While defending champion France fell in a shocking tournament opening loss to Senegal, unexpected teams such as co-hosts Japan and South Korea, as well as the United States, emerged. VOA's Steve Schy looks back at football's premier event and other 2002 highlights from the world of soccer.

The first round of the World Cup finals got rolling May 31 in Seoul, South Korea, as the upstart Lions of Teranga from Senegal shocked title-holder France, 1-0. It was a hint of things to come for the French, who failed to score a goal and failed to advance to the round of 16. Argentina was another surprise, also tumbling out in the first round.

Co-hosts Japan and South Korea both advanced, as they played before enthusiastic home crowds, while the United States made it through to the round of 16 at the expense of favored Portugal.

The round of 16 was the end of the road for co-host Japan, which fell to Turkey, 1-0. Belgium also bowed out, along with Denmark, Paraguay, and Ireland. But Senegal, South Korea and the United States continued to surprise. The Africans defeated Sweden, 1-0, while the co-hosts beat Italy, 2-1, and the Americans topped fellow CONCACAF (region) member Mexico, 2-0.

The quarterfinals were more predictable, as traditional powerhouses Brazil and Germany charged into the semifinals. But the United States and Senegal ended their unprecedented runs. Turkey ousted Senegal with a golden goal, while keeper Oliver Kahn was unbeatable, and Michael Ballack scored the only goal of the match, as Germany shut out the Americans 1-0. Even so, U.S. coach Bruce Arena was happy with his team's success at the World Cup.

"I think, we have made progress over the last four years, beat a lot of big countries," he said. "We have beaten teams from every continent over the past four years, so we are beginning to improve the quality of our team. But we will never get any respect and that is part of what motivates our players, we will never get any respect in England and Germany until we beat them. And then we need to beat these teams on a consistent basis. We are not there yet. We will get there."

Germany continued its strong play in the semifinals, ending South Korea's dream-run, 1-0, again on a goal from Ballack. Brazil defeated Turkey, also by 1-0, to advance to the World Cup final.

The championship match was played in Yokohama, Japan, on June 30, and Brazilian striker Ronaldo erased the memory of his illness in the finals four years earlier against France. With over a billion people watching the world over, he netted two second half goals to lead Brazil to a 2-0 victory and an unprecedented fifth World Cup title. Ronaldo ended the World Cup with a tournament-high eight goals and the Golden Shoe award. Through an interpreter, he said he could not believe it.

"I'm very happy, I'm very touched," Ronaldo said. "I think, we played a great game. We brought joy to millions of people, and I think, it will take some time for me to see and figure out what happened. But I am sure it will all be surrounded by happiness."

And Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, through an interpreter, said, once his players reached the final, he would not let them think about anything but winning the trophy.

"We always had in our minds that to be second is to be a loser. And we had all the time this mentality of being first. It's marvelous, it's marvelous the feeling that I feel now," he said. "It's simply marvelous. And I want mainly to say to the people of Brazil, do not forget the images of those boys, playing, enjoying, winning and bringing the cup back home."

Two days before the World Cup got under way, Sepp Blatter withstood a bruising campaign, and won election to a second four-year term as the president of football's world governing body, FIFA.

Blatter, who was accused of plunging FIFA into financial crisis, defeated Cameroon's Issa Hayatou 139-56 in a secret ballot of its national associations in Seoul, South Korea. The brutal campaign was dominated by allegations of corruption and mismanagement leveled against Blatter, some from members of his own executive committee.

In other major competitions, French football star Zinedine Zidane fired a goal on the stroke of half-time, to boost Spanish side Real Madrid to a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen of Germany in the European Champions' League final in Glasgow, Scotland. The victory May 15 was Madrid's ninth European Cup triumph.

On May 8, Dutch club Feyenoord Rotterdam won the UEFA Cup championship, with a 3-2 victory over Borussia Dortmund of Germany. The victory in Rotterdam ended a 28-year European championship drought for the home side.

On December 3, World Cup football star Ronaldo of Brazil and Spanish player "Guti" scored to lead Spanish club Real Madrid to a 2-0 win over Paraguay's Olimpia in the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo. The victory gives the European club the unofficial title of world club champion. This is the third time that Real Madrid has won the Intercontinental Cup, which pits the winner of Europe's Champions League against the South American club champion.

English football club Arsenal also had a great year, winning the "double." Arsenal captured the FA Cup and the English Premier League title.

In U.S. Major League Soccer, the Los Angeles Galaxy finally won an MLS Cup championship. The Galaxy had been runner-up three of the previous six times in the league's history. This time Los Angeles beat the New England Revolution in overtime, 1-0, on a 113th minute goal from Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz. He capped off a brilliant season in which he had a league-leading 24 goals and was named MLS Most Valuable Player.

In women's play, teams aimed to earn berths in the 2003 women's World Cup in China. The United States women's soccer team successfully qualified, so it will prepare to defend the title it won against China in the United States in 1999.

Part of VOA's Year End series

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