Every year, soccer fans witness stunning triumphs, heartbreaking defeats, championships, retirements and new emerging stars. 2001 was no exception.

In 2001 football, or soccer, teams around the world qualified for the ultimate championship tournament: the World Cup. The finals will be held in 2002 in both South Korea and Japan, the first nations ever to co-host the prestigious event.

The United States will again be represented after earning a berth in the Central, North American and Caribbean regional qualifying play. U.S. coach Bruce Arena and his team clinched the berth with a 2-1 victory against Jamaica in October, and a combination of surprise results by other contenders. "I know it has been an unusual run on our behalf," he said. "But we felt that, as we entered this game, we were exactly where we thought we would be in this competition. And we were kind of comfortable where we stood. Our guys won in today's game with a lot of confidence." .

The U.S. soccer team was drawn into a first round group with World Cup co-host South Korea, Poland and Portugal, which features FIFA world player of the year Luis Figo.

France is the defending champion in the 32 nation World Cup field. First-time qualifiers are China, Senegal, Slovenia and Ecuador.

As for club football, European Champions Cup winner Bayern Munich of Germany can claim the honor as best in the world after defeating Argentina's Boca Juniors, 1-0, to win the World Club Cup title in late November in Tokyo.

Among the women, a new professional league emerged in the United States, featuring many top players from the World Cup champion U.S. women's team and other top international players.

American Mia Hamm, named by FIFA as women's world player of the year, said the new league is a great inspiration for young women. "Most of the sports heroes we had were men, and that we saw on TV," she said. "And if we saw women competing, like [heptathlete] Jackie Joyner Kersee or [tennis player] Chris Evert, it was in more individual sports. Now, they are getting the opportunity not only to see it on television, but go out and picture themselves on that field, and, one day, be playing for Atlanta, or playing for the Boston Breakers, or the Washington Freedom, and definitely the U.S. national team."

The Women's United Soccer Association, WUSA, ended its first season with a dramatic penalty shootout final, with the Bay Area Cyber Rays taking the title over the Atlanta Beat on penalties 4-2, after the two teams had tied at three-all in regulation.

Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001