Brazil, glorious Brazil

German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, almost flawless till the title-round, made that fatal mistake in the final and Ronaldo grabbed the chance to pave the way for Brazil's fifth title at the 2002 World Cup.

For the first time in the history of the World Cup, the competition came to Asia. And quite appropriately, Japan and South Korea, which were making more than mere ripples in world football, co-hosted the new Millennium's first tournament.

It was the finest effort yet as far as organising the mega event is concerned, and in keeping with the high voltage drama that unfolded right from day one was the on-field performances of both Japan and South Korea.

In all 199 countries registered to participate in the Asian edition, but only 193 competed for the 30 slots, with Japan and Korea being automatic qualifiers as the co-hosts of the tournament. The competition, spread over two countries, sprang plenty of surprises as new forces displaced the established ones. Nothing symbolised this more than the tournament opener between newcomer Senegal and France.

The African nation shocked France, and the defending champion never recovered from that blow. With one of its leading players, Zinedine Zidane, nursing an injury, the team floundered and made an unceremonious exit in the first round after having earned just one point. France did not score even a single goal.

Inspired by players such as Papa Bouba Diop and El Hadji Diouf, Senegal's collective strength saw it go from strength to strength. The Lions of Terenga made it to the second round beating Sweden with a golden goal before falling to Turkey (by a golden goal) in the quarterfinal.

USA provided further shocks by shaking up Group D with a victory over Portugal. The fancied Portuguese may have made amends with a win over Poland, but they had to exit the tournament after suffering another shock defeat against Korea. Thus, Europe lost another big name.

More surprises were in store. Especially with teams such as England, Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria locked together in Group F. This was termed as the `Group of Death' for each team was a force to reckon with and two of them had to go out. As it turned out, England and Sweden were lucky to go through to the next stage.

Argentina's exit was unexpected. It was up against England in the group stage and this ensured a hotly contested match early in the World Cup. The pressure was on David Beckham, who was ejected from the tournament with a red card when England and Argentina clashed the last time in the World Cup in 1998.

But Beckham put aside that disappointment and proved to be England's fulcrum. Appropriately, it was his penalty (the only goal of the match) that sounded the death knell for Argentina. The pre-tournament favourite, which could only manage a draw against Sweden, had to make its way out of the competition.

In the second phase the focus was on Korea, which had a dream run. In the round of 16, the team shocked Italy through a golden goal scored by Ahn Jung Hwan (2-1). Korea then took another big stride by edging out Spain on penalties in the quarterfinal. By now, the following for the sport had hit a new high in Korea. Besides, football received a shot in the arm in the whole of Asia.

Korea, however, was not fortunate enough to get past Germany in the semifinal, but by reaching thus far in the tournament, it underlined the progress made by Asia in world football.

Japan, the other co-host, did not have Korea's luck, but topping its group was an achievement in itself. Defeating a mature European side, Russia, was the high point of Japan's campaign in the group stage. It had also beaten Tunisia. However, in the pre-quarterfinals, Japan fell to Turkey.

After squeaking into the round of 16, at the expense of Costa Rica on `goal-difference', Turkey had a good run up to the semifinals. It edged out Japan first, and then stopped the crowd-favourite Senegal in the quarterfinals.

Beaten by Brazil in the Group league, Turkey once again suffered defeat at the hands of the South American nation in the semifinals. However, the second meeting certainly had the Brazilians working hard. Ronaldo saved the day for Brazil, but Turkey impressed with its technical efficiency and sturdy display.

Germany, on the other hand, had not appealed to many as a `favourite' but it displayed guts and clinical precision to enter the final. And much of the credit for this should go to the German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.

It was a case of a goalkeeper inspiring the rest. The wins over Saudi Arabia and Cameroon were enough for Germany to go to the second round, the draw against Ireland notwithstanding. The team got past Paraguay (1-0) through Oliver Neuville's late goal, and then with the help of Michael Ballack's splendid first half effort and Kahn's tight keeping, Germany reached the last four. Playing against the host can be tough, and considering that Korea was on a high, Germany had a task on its hands. The stadium was awash with red and Germany had to be ever alert to hold back an opponent, which was being egged on from all sides. Kahn proved his worth and was even referred to as the most dominating goalkeeper in the world.

Like in the quarterfinals, it was Ballack who gave Germany its only goal. But he was booked immediately after, thus depriving Germany of an inspirational performer and a goal-getter in the final.

Almost flawless till the title-round, Kahn made that fatal mistake in the final and Ronaldo slotted the ball in. With that effort Ronaldo, called "The Phenomenon", put Brazil on the path to becoming the world's greatest football team. "This is the only mistake I made in the seven matches of the World Cup," a disconsolate Kahn said later.

Kahn made the mistake of not collecting the ball. Instead, he palmed it down and unfortunately for him the ball rolled over as Ronaldo moved in, in a flash, and scored the goal. Twelve minutes later, Ronaldo struck again after Rivaldo froze the German defence.

By claiming its fifth title, Brazil further embellished its extraordinary record in the World Cup. The victory was also enhanced by the fact that it was the only team to have won the Cup on every continent that has staged it.

It was a memorable tournament for Brazil, especially considering the fact that the team had lost six matches in the qualifiers and was almost on the verge of missing the final round.

S. R. Suryanarayan