Alex at The World Cup
An unillustrated yet graphic account from the couch of a confessed football nut.
It's that time again. Man and Remote, already conjoined twins, become one. Women who don't follow suit lament a month of virtual widowhood. Women who do earn the sincere admiration of the opposite sex and men who are uninterested are given incredulous looks by their peers, and might as well start wearing a tutu. Men are once again
childrenmen... on the field, in bars and on couches all across the world. Let the beer flow freely and let junk food fill the world. It's World Cup time! For you Merkins reading this, it's the one month every four years when the tables are turned and, instead of the rest of the world thinking YOU are crazy, you are quite right in thinking IT is crazy. Oh yeah, and it's what
you guys call "soccer."
I missed the opening ceremony. Not that I cared for it anyway. Who wants to hear whatstheirnames singing when you've heard the Three Tenors at the last three World Cups? Let's skip it and tune in when the match begins. France, reigning World and European champions, and Senegal, African runners-up and unknown quantity. A recipe for an upset. Crack open the sixpack, curse the poor reception and insane kick-off times and blissfully resign yourself to four weeks and sixty-four broadcasts of football madness in the only party bigger than the Olympics. And may the best team win.
I made an honest effort to view all matches and node a frank commentary here. Seeing that the only channel I can get the World Cup on here is Telefutura my Spanish isn't up to being influenced by the television commentators. By the end of the tournament I'll understand a hell of a lot more Spanish that I did before. Unfortunately they only show eight of the matches live--the rest are shown live only on cable--so I spend my late nights and mornings, US time, under a news blackout because typically matches are shown with an eight-hour delay. I'm not complaining too loudly though--moving to an area with an hispanic element large enough to justify a Spanish-language channel and the inevitable football on it was a stroke of good luck.
I'm not going into qualifying details since there's neither enough space for it nor do I want to present the results of several hundred matches. The first team to book their ticket were Poland from European qualifying group 5. The last team were Uruguay, who laboured to finish fifth in the South American qualifying group and beat ambitious Australia in a two-legged play-off in November 2001 (ask Aussies why they don't like football and they'll mutter something about failing to qualify since 1974). Germany and Brazil performed poorly and struggled to make it to the finals. The Netherlands were eliminated, as were Chile, Iran, Romania and Yugoslavia. Ecuador, Turkey and Slovenia were the minor surprise qualifiers.
Teams from five of FIFA's six confederations are competing: Europe is represented by 15; South America and Africa by five each; Asia by four and North/Central America and the Caribbean by three teams.
First Round (group stage)
In the first round of the finals, there are eight groups of four teams who will play each other in a round robin system, the first two getting the ticket to the next round. Three points for victory, one for a draw. Points are counted first. If two teams are equal on points, the difference between goals allowed and goals scored counts. If that is also tied, the absolute number of goals scored by the teams counts. Failing to resolve a tie like this, the score between the two teams is used to decide and finally, if even that fails to settle the score, lots are drawn.
In parentheses next the team name is the pre-championship ELO rank, according to eloratings.net and excluding teams that did not qualify for the World Cup. I prefer it because it's more dynamic and reflects current form more accurately than the official FIFA world rankings. Oddly enough, the poor performances of the top-ranked teams left non-qualifiers Holland top of the overall ranking by the middle of the tournament, by virtue of them not having played any matches they could have lost.
Group A (Korea)
France (1), Senegal (27 tied), Uruguay (17), Denmark (12)
Defending champions France, as is the tradition, opened the World Cup playing against a theoretically weaker team and produced an upset that would set the tone for the rest of the World Cup. France - Senegal 0-1. The jinx of the defending champions held. Everyone was pleased. Except for the French, that is. France, missing Zinedine Zidane through injury in their first two matches, failed to make any impact or score a single goal in their matches with Senegal and Uruguay, and even when he returned, a pale shadow of the player who led his team to triumph at the '98 World Cup and Euro 2000, they went on to lose 2-0 to Denmark and crash out like no defending champion before. Which proves that you can't get far with an aging team that hinges on a single player. Senegal, playing with a team made up almost entirely of players who earn their living in the French championship, are a classy and entertaining team but almost blew it when they threw away a 3-0 lead over Uruguay and Uruguay are still rueing their last-minute chance to win that match and go through to the next round. Denmark produced solid displays and beat both France and Uruguay, the latter in an overdue grudge match that turned out kind of tame, and played Senegal to a respectable draw. Teamwork and skill paid off and the best teams progressed.
31/05 Seoul: France 0 Senegal 1
01/06 Ulsan: Uruguay 1 Denmark 2
06/06 Daegu: Denmark 1 Senegal 1
06/06 Busan: Uruguay 0 France 0
11/06 Incheon: Denmark 2 France 0
11/06 Suwon: Senegal 3 Uruguay 3
Team W D L Goals Pts
Denmark 2 1 0 5-2 7
Senegal 1 2 0 4-3 5
Uruguay 0 2 1 3-4 2
France 0 1 2 0-3 1
Group B (Korea)
Spain (5), Slovenia (24), Paraguay (26), South Africa (31)
The group opened with controversy as Spain's 3-1 win over Slovenia could just as well have been a draw were it not for a meddlesome referee. There was little doubt about the top dog in this group as Spain cruised to a first place finish with three wins. The drama was reserved for the final day in which South Africa put up a great fight before going down to Spain and letting Paraguay progress on goals scored. Apart from the promising performances of the Spanish team, still trying to shed their reputation of chronic underachievers who present great teams at the World Cup and always manage to blow it, there was nothing really noteworthy in this group.
02/06 Busan: Paraguay 2 South Africa 2
02/06 Gwangju: Spain 3 Slovenia 1
07/06 Jeonju: Spain 3 Paraguay 1
08/06 Daegu: South Africa 1 Slovenia 0
12/06 Seogwipo: Slovenia 1 Paraguay 3
12/06 Daejeon: South Africa 2 Spain 3
Team W D L Goals Pts
Spain 3 0 0 9-4 9
Paraguay 1 1 1 6-6 4
South Africa 1 1 1 5-5 4
Slovenia 0 0 3 2-7 0
Group C (Korea)
Brazil (8), Turkey (22), China (29), Costa Rica (21)
The only group with only one European team, and that barely so, this was an interesting draw. First-timers China were not contenders from the beginning. Their inferiority complex was unhelpful but was also, in retrospect, justified. Their coach Bora Milutinovic took a record fifth different team to consecutive World Cups but failed to take it into the second round like he did the other four. This was a learning experience for them as they lost all three matches without scoring a goal. The opening match of this group between Brazil and Turkey was the first to end with huge controversy since the Brazilians' winning goal was scored from a penalty kick awarded for a foul committed outside the box. Turkey and Costa Rica then battled to a draw, and the final round found Turkey needing to win and score high to stand a chance of progressing to the second round, and Costa Rica needing only a draw. While the Turks were comfortably beating China 3-0, the Ticos played a much better game than the final score of 2-5 reflects but were simply outscored by a penetrating and highly efficient Brazilian front line. Turkey went through on goal difference. Brazil in general relied on its star strikers Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho to spare them the blushes that their shaky defence
could have caused.
03/06 Ulsan: Brazil 2 Turkey 1
04/06 Gwangju: China 0 Costa Rica 2
08/06 Seogwipo: Brazil 4 China 0
09/06 Incheon: Costa Rica 1 Turkey 1
13/06 Suwon: Costa Rica 2 Brazil 5
13/06 Seoul: Turkey 3 China 0
Team W D L Goals Pts
Brazil 3 0 0 11-3 9
Turkey 1 1 1 5-3 4
Costa Rica 1 1 1 5-6 4
China 0 0 3 0-9 0
Group D (Korea)
South Korea (23), Poland (32), USA (18), Portugal (4)
This group opened with a pair of bombshells as the United States thumped a sorry Portuguese defence with three goals in the first half of the match, and Portugal, one of the tournament's most fancied teams, were unable to recover. Korea recorded their first ever World Cup win after six draws and eight defeats by beating a very uninspiring Polish team 2-0. Portugal appeared to recover from the first day shock whereas Poland did not, leading to a just scoreline of 4-0 for Portugal, while the Koreans and the US were both reasonably satisfied with their 1-1 draw. On the final day Poland made a late recovery and beat the US 3-1. Portugal needed at least a draw and preferably victory over former minnows Korea but managed to crash out in a spectacularly undignified manner by losing 1-0 and displaying some truly poor behaviour.
04/06 Busan: South Korea 2 Poland 0
05/06 Suwon: USA 3 Portugal 2
10/06 Daegu: South Korea 1 USA 1
10/06 Jeonju: Portugal 4 Poland 0
14/06 Daejeon: Poland 3 USA 1
14/06 Incheon: Portugal 0 South Korea 1
Team W D L Goals Pts
South Korea 2 1 0 3-1 7
USA 1 1 1 5-6 4
Portugal 1 0 2 6-4 3
Poland 1 0 2 3-7 3
Group E (Japan)
Germany (11), Saudi Arabia (25), Ireland (9), Cameroon (16)
Group E began with a goalfest as Germany, who barely scraped into the finals, gave the Saudis, who had put in respectable performances at the last two World Cups, a night they'd rather forget and demolished a team that walked into the game waving a white flag by a staggering 8-0, a scoreline not seen since Hungary destroyed El Salvador 10-1 in 1982. It was like clubbing baby seals. Cameroon tried but failed to inspire and had to settle for a draw against Ireland and a narrow victory over Saudi Arabia. Ireland, a big question mark after the sending home of captain Roy Keane, performed admirably and up to par with their previous World Cup appearances, drawing with both Germany and Cameroon. In their final group match in which they needed to win by at least two goals, Ireland managed to score more than once for the first time ever in the World Cup, putting three past Saudi Arabia, and progressed to the next round looking as tough as ever. Cameroon - Germany turned into a virtual smackdown with a referee who desperately failed in the disciplinary department handing out cards left and right.
01/06 Niigata: Ireland 1 Cameroon 1
01/06 Sapporo: Germany 8 Saudi Arabia 0
05/06 Ibaraki: Germany 1 Ireland 1
06/06 Saitama: Cameroon 1 Saudi Arabia 0
11/06 Shizuoka: Cameroon 0 Germany 2
11/06 Yokohama: Saudi Arabia 0 Ireland 3
Team W D L Goals Pts
Germany 2 1 0 11-1 7
Ireland 1 2 0 5-2 5
Cameroon 1 1 1 2-3 4
Saudi Arabia 0 0 3 0-12 0
Group F (Japan)
Argentina (2), Nigeria (20), England (6), Sweden (10)
Ah, the much vaunted Group Of Death. The quirks of the draw placed three of the top ten ranked teams into the same group and mayhem was
anticipated. African powerhouse Nigeria weren't half as dangerous as expected, and went out first after losing to both Sweden and Argentina. With
England having scraped out an ominously undeserved draw with Sweden before beating Argentina in a grudge classic, it went to the wire.
England needed only a draw with Nigeria, Nigeria was happy to oblige, and they played to a tasteless, colourless, odorless and scoreless draw. In the meantime a deathmatch was going on between the Swedes and Argentinians that ended in a 1-1 draw that sent Sweden through to the next round and a disbelieving Argentina, one of the top title contenders, back to Buenos Aires after doing precious little to cheer up a nation gripped by depression.
02/06 Iberaki: Argentina 1 Nigeria 0
02/06 Saitama: England 1 Sweden 1
07/06 Kobe: Sweden 2 Nigeria 1
07/06 Sapporo: Argentina 0 England 1
12/06 Osaka: Nigeria 0 England 0
12/06 Miyagi: Sweden 1 Argentina 1
Team W D L Goals Pts
Sweden 1 2 0 4-3 5
England 1 2 0 2-1 5
Argentina 1 1 1 2-2 4
Nigeria 0 1 2 1-3 1
Group G (Japan)
Italy (3), Croatia (7), Ecuador (27 tied), Mexico (14)
This group turned out to be more exciting than the line-up would indicate. Italy and Mexico had no trouble beating Ecuador but Croatia ended up being the key to the group, as they recovered from their first day defeat to Mexico and beat Italy 2-1 in another match steeped in controversy as Italy had two goals disallowed. The final match day could have spelled disaster for yet another of the fancied teams but Italy escaped thanks to an unexpected Ecuadorean win over Croatia while they fought to a draw with Mexico. So Italy followed a strong Mexico into the next round with a better performance than their figures show.
03/06 Niigata: Croatia 0 Mexico 1
03/06 Sapporo: Italy 2 Ecuador 0
08/06 Iberaki: Italy 1 Croatia 2
09/06 Miyagi: Mexico 2 Ecuador 1
13/06 Yokohama: Ecuador 1 Croatia 0
13/06 Oita: Mexico 1 Italy 1
Team W D L Goals Pts
Mexico 2 1 0 4-2 7
Italy 1 1 1 4-3 4
Croatia 1 0 2 2-3 3
Ecuador 1 0 2 2-4 3
Group H (Japan)
Japan (13), Belgium (15), Russia (19), Tunisia (32)
The polar opposite of Group F, this group, because of the seeding of hosts Japan, allowed four weaker and more evenly matched teams to play in the same group. Japan, like their Korean co-hosts, scored their first two World Cup victories against Russia and Tunisia to top the group. Russia, having opened the group's matches by beating Tunisia 2-0 and losing to Japan on the second day, failed to beat Belgium and went out without showing much promise. Tunisia were stronger than expected, despite their many, many internal problems, and once again put in a reasonable, if not quite adequate performance. Belgium, perpetual champions of mediocre results for the last 20 years, once again provided suspense and excitement as they drew 2-2 with Japan, drew with Tunisia, and progressed by beating Russia 3-2 in a remake of the teams' spectacular 1986 World Cup encounter, also won by Belgium.
04/06 Saitama: Japan 2 Belgium 2
05/06 Kobe: Russia 2 Tunisia 0
09/06 Yokohama: Japan 1 Russia 0
10/06 Oita: Tunisia 1 Belgium 1
14/06 Shizuoka: Belgium 3 Russia 2
14/06 Osaka: Tunisia 0 Japan 2
Team W D L Goals Pts
Japan 2 1 0 5-2 7
Belgium 1 2 0 6-5 5
Russia 1 1 1 4-4 4
Tunisia 0 1 2 1-5 1
First round overview
With three of the top contenders making a premature exit, wonders have happened and the World Cup is more interesting than ever. France
disappointed by being the first ever champions to finish bottom of their group and scoreless but at least they avoided the ignominy of being
pointless too. Only two scoreless draws were recorded, which is pleasing and probably hasn't happened in donkey's years. Brazil, Germany and Spain appear strongest going into the second round but, with the way this World Cup is going and the strength of unfancied teams, anything can happen.
Neither the South American nor the African teams impressed particularly. Only two of the former and one of the latter managed to progress. This is
especially disppointing for African football, which had been progressing by leaps and bounds since Cameroon put it on the map in 1990. The co-hosts did remarkably well and topped their groups but the other two Asian teams failed to bag a point or score a single goal
Of the newcomers, only Senegal did well. China sank in a difficult group, Ecuador left with a precious token victory for their experience, and
Slovenia didn't do half as well as they did at Euro 2000. Turkey, who are practically first-timers, having been to the World Cup only once in
1954, showed a lot of strength and skill but not enough character and need more discipline if they want to go places.
Remember this and all following are knock-out rounds. Draws are resolved by playing extra time, with any team that scores a goal winning the match
(golden goal rule). If the teams are still tied after 30 minutes of extra time, penalty kicks are taken to the tune of five kicks per team. If the
match is still tied after that, more penalty kicks are taken one at a time until one team misses and the other scores in the same turn.
Germany 1 Paraguay 0
A pathetic start to the second round almost ended in a well-deserved for both teams scoreless draw, as both played to destroy their opponents' game
rather than playing their own game. Oliver Neuville scored two minutes from regulation time to send Germany through and Paraguay, who lost to
France in the same round by a last-gasp golden goal in 1998, home for the second time running.
Denmark 0 England 3
The second match of a disappointing first day of the second round was little better than the other one. England played a conservative game and
Denmark virtually gifted them the match with some horrible and critical defensive blunders. Woe betide England, I thought, if they were to play
against Brazil in the next round like they played against the Danes.
Sweden 1 Senegal 2 (a.e.t.)
Two sides with radically different styles, who had both impressed the public in the first round, battled it out to a 1-1 draw after regulation time, both
teams missing a number of chances to score the winner. The winner came in extra time as Henri Camara of French first division team Sedan delighted the fans back home and rescued Africa's pride after 103 minutes of playing time for a heartbreaking end to a great match. The Swedes were worthy opponents and I'd have preferred either team over the dull bunch that played the day before.
Spain 1 Ireland 1 (3-2 pen.)
Another match that reaffirmed my belief in football after the trauma of day one of the second round. Spain took an early lead and it was a balanced, hearty match until Ireland's efforts were rewarded with Robbie Keane's last-minute penalty goal that took the match to extra time. Both teams continued to fight for the winner but neither managed to score and we went to the tournament's first penalty shootout. Ireland made an unfortunate but dignified exit as Spanish goalie Iker Casillas followed up his regulation time penalty save with two more. He deserves the credit for putting Spain through to the next round.
Mexico 0 United States 2
A classic clash between two CONCACAF rivals. Mexico failed to show their skill like they did in their first round matches and were ineffective in attack. The US team put in another consistent performance and relied on tenacious defending and a lethal counter-attacking capability to give them
a rare victory, leave them with their first World Cup clean sheet since 1950 and first quarter-final appearance since 1930 (when, incidentally, only thirteen teams showed up). Mexico have justifiable complaints about a blatant penalty-box handball that wasn't called while the score was 1-0 but the referee was altogether nuts and overall the US were the better team on the pitch.
Brazil 2 Belgium 0
Brazil went into this match the big favourites, after being possibly the best team of the first round, much as I hate to admit it. They didn't reckon with a classy Belgian side that fought to the bitter end and were their equals on the pitch. Once again Belgium were a team that does football credit by playing thoroughly enjoyable matches in the World Cup. For much of the match they actually outplayed Brazil in midfield and fell victim to the marksmanship of the Brazilian front line after scaring the Brazilians half to death more than once. If Brazil play like this against England, I thought, they're dead meat.
Japan 0 Turkey 1
Another uninspiring match, this time won by an early goal. The home crowd failed to give Japan the extra boost to overcome the tenacious and technical Turks and the match played itself out to a low-key exit of the co-hosts.
South Korea 2 Italy 1 (a.e.t)
More high drama as the gutsy Koreans fought one of the favourites, aiming to exceed expectations, match North Korea's epic 1966 triumph over the Italians, and one-up their Japanese rivals. Italy went up 1-0 in the first half with a Christian Vieri goal and tried to hold on to the lead. Again they had issues with the refereeing after having an astonishing fifth goal disallowed in the same tournament. Korea refused to give up that easily and battled their way to an 88th minute equaliser to force the match into extra time. Spurred by an exceptionally vocal crowd, Ahn Jung-Hwan redeemed himself for his 4th minute failure to convert a penalty kick and some poor, selfish choices in regular time by scoring the all-important golden goal four minutes before the end of extra time. In the aftermath of the match he was almost sacked by his Italian club Perugia for gloating.
England 1 Brazil 2
As a spectacle, this wasn't quite what it was hyped up to be. Neither team played their best and the hoped-for remake of the 1970 thriller was not to be. England made a much stronger showing in midfield than in previous matches but left too much possession to the
Brazilians who, for the most part, failed badly in making that work to their advantage. The match was decided by errors, as Michael Owen opened the
score following a hopelessly failed clearance by defender Lucio. Rivaldo scored the equaliser in first-half injury time when Beckham abandoned a loose ball thinking it was headed out of play, and Scholes let the ball roll past him after Ronaldinho recovered it and passed it to the charging Rivaldo. The latter had no problem getting past Campbell, who was desperately scrambling to patch the midfield screw-up, and putting the ball beyond Seaman's reach.
The second half still saw Brazil more in possession of the ball and five minutes into it Ronaldinho's free kick found Seaman out of position and
thinking the ball was headed out of play. The shot from 35 metres curved over the keeper and ended up in his top right corner as he made a token lunge while backpedalling but had to watch the ball end up in the net. After that, not even the completely undeserved sending-off of scorer Ronaldinho in the 58th
minute could save England. England attacked more and more as the game drew towards the final whistle but had few real chances as the Brazilians froze
them out of the game with better defending than in any match before combined with a smart but frustrating Italian-style catenaccio play.
Once again, it was the defence that kept England alive for as long as it did. The tournament saw an ineffective attacking line that failed to live up to its talent and reputation, and none of Eriksson's combinations produced results, old-timer Sheringham being the most dangerous and inventive player when appearing as a substitute. Midfield was improved, with Beckham finally finding most of his form but by then it was too late. Throughout the tournament, defenders Danny Mills and Ashley Cole tirelessly pushed the ball forward for England and, along with Campbell and Ferdinand presented a credible threat in front of the goal. Too bad the actual forwards couldn't come up with the same consistency as the back line, who practically ended up doing the work of an entire team.
Germany 1 United States 0
Two teams that know each other well, having met twice since the Germans' victory at the 1998 World Cup, were lined up in
this quarter-final. Germany had so far produced unexciting but effective football in the best Prussian tradition. The US team were enthusiastic and technical. Both teams play with a never say die attitude and, as expected, every ball was chased and every pass was challenged. Michael Ballack scored the decisive goal with a fine header in the 39th minute, top scorer "Santa" Klose hit the post three minutes later but otherwise the German forwards failed to force their way through a determined US defensive line.
The United States were, as many, not least of all the Germans, will admit, the better team on the pitch. They gave the Germans a torrid time in midfield and Germany captain Oliver Kahn had to show his world class skills on more than one occasion, particularly on Landon Donovan's lightning-fast breaks. In the end it's goals that count. Kahn's interventions and some plain old lack of luck left the United States without a goal to celebrate but saw them leave the tournament as one of its more pleasant surprises and with heads held high.
Spain 0 South Korea 0 (5-3 pen.)
Two teams packed their midfields and played with one forward each and the result was pretty much what you'd expect. Most of the game was played between the centre line and Korea's box, but neither team was dominant. Spain started out looking stronger and more confident but the Koreans lasted longer and improved as the Spaniards tired. Neither team looked likely to score and the goalkeepers made some good saves but were never besieged.
I almost slept through parts of this match. The second part of extra time was the most exciting bit of the game before it went to the inevitable penalty kicks. There the Koreans showed nerves of steel, and Iker Casillas failed to repeat his performance against Ireland as the Koreans hammered all five penalties past him. The Korean goalie saved Joaquim's weak fourth penalty and sent his team to a semi-final meeting with Germany. Spain's complaints about a disallowed goal in the 92nd minute are quite justifiable--the ball did not cross the line, but then the Korean defenders stopped when they saw the linesman's flag go up so it may never have been a goal in the first place had they challenged the cross.
Once again Spain came with a team of very talented individuals who worked pretty well together but the curse would not let go and once again the quarter-final was the end of the line. I reckon they could play the Red Lion's weekend warriors and still come out losing if it were a World Cup quarter-final.
22/06 Osaka, kick-off time 11:30 UTC
Senegal 0 Turkey 1 (a.e.t.)
These were two surprise participants in the quarter-finals who, despite never having met before, play a similar brand of technical, attacking football and seemed to understand each other's game. The match was a bit nervous on both side and the ball most of the time changed possession faster than you could blink.
The score does not reflect the teams' efforts, which were better than that, but it does reveal where both teams failed and which one was more effective in the end. The goalkeepers could have been a lot busier than they were had the forwards been more on target. As it is, both front lines suffered from some bad jitters.
After a balanced first half Turkey took charge of the match in the second half and was definitely the more dangerous of the two teams up front, with rapid breaks and accurate passing that showcased their technical virtues when they weren't bungling their chances because of a case of nerves. Hakan Sukur once again failed to hit the back of the net and was substituted while Senegal's strikers were usually contained by a typically tenacious Turkish defence.
It all came down to a golden goal in extra time, when Ilhan Mansiz, Sukur's substitute, galloped into the box in the 94th minute to snag Yildiray Basturk's beautiful pass and put the ball where keeper Sylva stood no chance of reaching it. A deserved win for the Turks over opponents who also earned the world's respect.
Germany 1 South Korea 0
For the most part this was a pretty good match. Not brilliant, by no means, but we saw some nice, fast attacking football from both teams who concentrated on their running game and tried to break through the opponents' defence with swift exchanges and individual charges.
Neither team seemed very confident but Germany did look just a wee bit more self-assured and I think that's what made the difference. Korea once again suffered from poor, nervous finishing up front, but not the extent of letting Oliver Kahn just stand around idly.. they were usually the more dangerous team in attack. Germany were more to the point but individual efforts fell short of the standard required to score.
Both teams were alright in defence. Germany relied on speed and the bulk of their players--more than once the smaller Koreans practically ran into a wall of solid German blocking the way. The Korean defenders relied on good positioning to rid themselves of the dangerous German high balls. The goal that decided the match was a result of Oliver Neuville sliding a sly pass past four defenders at just the right moment. Michael Ballack picked it up and scored on the rebound, after seeing the first shot parried by goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae to spoil the latter's good match and send Germany through to the final.
The result is just in the way that Germany's win over Paraguay and Korea's win over Portugal were. It wasn't necessarily the better team that won, but the team that scores is de facto superior by virtue of doing the only thing that really counts... scoring goals.
Korea did the hard work of eliminating contenders Portugal, Spain and Italy while Germany confronted teams of lesser reputation. In the end all the Germans had to do was knock out Korea. I'm not sure they'd have stood a chance against either of the other big names. We shall see in the final whether Germany deserves to be there.
26/06 Saitama, kick-off time 11:30 UTC
Brazil 1 Turkey 0
Two teams that played some of the most exciting football of the tournament met to solve their differences from the first round match. And it turned out to be one of the more interesting matches of this World Cup.
The picture was the same throughout the first half. The match was balanced in midfield with Brazil having a slight edge in possession and opportunities. Their strikers looked a bit more dangerous compared and penetrating but ran into a Turkish defence, led by keeper Rustu Recber, that gave them nothing but "no" for an answer. Turkey had their moments in attack but were ineffectual and understaffed in Brazil's penalty box, since hardly anyone seemed willing to enter it. A strong Brazilian defensive line, aided by the midfielders who returned en masse to defend and ran much more than in previous matches, kept the Turks at bay.
The second half opened with a goal worthy of Ronaldo's class, as he simply swept past the defence and didn't leave Recber much of a chance. But it would be a while before the Turks seriously counterattacked. The pattern was mostly the same as in the first half, with Turkey's efforts to equalise stopping outside the penalty box, be it because of poor choices and hasty shots or because of their inability to penetrate and score. Sukur was once again not himself and the weight once again fell on the shoulders of substitute Ilhan Mansiz. Even paired, neither of them managed to come up with the right finishing, and rarely threatened goalkeeper Carlos even when they maximised their pressure during the last fifteen minutes.
The result in this semi-final was as just as it was in the one the day before. Victory, as has been the norm in this World Cup went to the more effective attack, not necessarily the best team. Turkey gave Brazil a run for their money and proved themselves worthy. Brazil had to fight all the way for their spot in the final and will go into it as the big favourites.
3rd Place Playoff
South Korea 2 Turkey 3
Typically the third-place play-off is a purely procedural affair for the teams involved. Once they've reached the semi-final, teams tend to be content to play below their usual standard. Not in this case. Korea and Turkey played the best 3rd place play-off match I've seen in all the World Cups I've followed.
Hakan Sukur broke his goal drought by beating a 40 year old record to score the fastest goal ever in a World Cup after a really bad turnover by the Korean defence. When paired with Ilhan Mansiz the Turkish attack was a constant threat and the two shared their teams three goals and assists. Turkey should have tried this earlier.
Korea weren't as effective up front and that was the difference between the two teams. Both teams chased the ball and battled in midfield, with Turkey having a slight edge for most of the match. We saw a good-natured match full of hearty, attacking football and both teams enhanced their reputation. I'd watch this one again.
Germany 0 Brazil 2
(Ronaldo 67' 79')
Germany: Kahn (capt.), Linke, Ramelow, Neuville, Hamann, Klose (73' Bierhoff), Jeremies (77' Asamoah), Bode (84' Ziege), Schneider, Metzelder, Frings.
Brazil: Marcos, Cafu (capt.), Lucio, Roque Junior, Edmilson, Roberto Carlos, Gilberto Silva, Ronaldo (89' Denilson), Rivaldo, Ronaldinho (84' Juninho), Kleberson.
The final featured a pair of teams that, while being giants of world football, were not expected to appear in the final before the World Cup. Both had poor qualifying records and neither played quite the style that had placed them among the great footballing nations. Brazil demonstrated a toughness and several individuals who could take a match upon themselves, while Germany struggled over each hurdle. It's rare to see the Germans with an underdog tag but Brazil was definitely the team more likely to win this match.
The first half did nothing to confirm Brazil's reputation as favourites. Germany went into the match fighting. Playing in a way similar to that of the Belgian team, which causes the Brazilians no end of troubles in the second round, the Germans applied strong pressure in midfield and a defensive man-to-man set-up that kept the ball away from the Brazilian forwards as much as possible, and did a good job of tackling them when they did gain possession. They did not neglect the attacking side of the game and were dangerous when the pushed the ball past midfield, and for most of the half occupied the Brazilian wing-backs, preventing them from launching the potentially devastating flank attacks that had troubled other teams. Both Cafu and Roberto Carlos were more or less confined to their defensive positions.
The second half saw some changes, as Brazil sppeared to have worked out some solutions to the midfield issue. The forwards were more active in both defence and midfield, taking some of the strain off the rest of the team and giving them more opportunites to circulate the ball by distracting the German midfielders. While Germaay did still have the larger share of possession, they had more problems getting the ball past the Brazilians. Brazil gained more and more control over the match, until Ronaldo exploited Oliver Kahn's first significant error of the tournament and slotted the ball home after the latter fumbled the wet ball following a shot by Rivaldo.
After that it was more or less downhill for Germany. While they tried hard, they weren't quite up to the occasion and Brazil controlled the match. The was no luck or error involved in Ronaldo's second goal which again showcased the difference between Brazil and the other teams. He certainly redeemed himself for the poor performance of the last World Cup final against France. The Brazilian defence kept their fourth consecutive clean sheet of the tournament after their shaky first round and were rarely troubled by the German forward line, which lacked spark and imagination.
With the final whistle of Italian referee Pierluigi Collina, who lived up to expectations and directed the match almost flawlessly, Brazil won an unexpected fifth World Cup and, as everyone will admit, were probably the best team of the tournament. I don't have to like them but I will most certainly hand it to them. They're World Champions and they earned the title on the pitch.
Summary (to be extended and subject to change, factoids to be added)
- The goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Spain), Brad Friedel
(USA), Tony Sylva (Senegal) and Oliver Kahn (Germany).
- Brazil's lethal trio of attackers, a match-winning force.
- Germany and their coach Rudi Voeller for being gracious in victory over the American team after a tense and sometimes ugly match.
- England's defensive line for being worth a team by themselves. Extra credit to Rio Ferdinand.
- The South Korean supporters, always an intensely vocal and loyal crowd even through five failed World Cup appearances that were an ocean away. They were their team's twelfth player and deserved something to cheer for.
- Pierluigi Collina for restoring some faith in the refereeing class after some of his colleagues bungled critical matches.
- The best match of the tournament: The third place play-off between Turkey and South Korea. I think I'll rank the second round match between Brazil and Belgium second.
- Portugal never recovered from the disastrous first half of their first match. Despite a good game against Poland, they did not live up to half the expectations and went out deservedly. Their Golden Generation that won the Youth World Cup in 1989 and 1991 bowed out without getting as much as a curtain call. Truly sad for a team that I love to watch play.
- The American public. After that win over Portugal there would have been dancing in the streets anywhere else in the world. Once again apathy
- France sucked. That's all. Now quit asking me to put this in the "good" column.
- Ireland's Roy Keane. When you go to the World Cup, you go as a player prepared to serve your team, not like a spoiled primadonna. If your
season was too hard on you, excuse yourself. Don't take it out on your team and your hosts. As you saw, they can do pretty well without you rocking the
- Slovenia's perpetual star and troublemaker Zlatko Zahovic, and coach Srecko Katanec for yet another famous bust-up that did their team no
- Ecuadorean ref Byron Moreno for his performance in Korea-Italy. Can you blame the Italians for naming public toilets after him?
- Portugal again, what a bunch of winners. As in their dramatic semi-final against France at the last European Championship, they totally lost
their nerve at the end of a losing match and assaulted the referee. Extra (dis)credit to Joao Pinto for the punch.
- David Beckham's hairdo looked like the work of a blind, arthritic barber. I know he likes the unusual but this was painful to look at.
- Mexico's Cuauhtemoc Blanco and star referee Pierluigi Collina. They're both tops at what they do but I wouldn't want their mugs in my family
- England and Nigeria's scoreless draw redefined turgid in the context of football.
- Rivaldo for his playground antics at the end of the first match against Turkey. He's neither cute nor handsome enough to get away with it.
This World Cup did not stand out for the quality of the football played. We did, however, see more attacking going on compared to the previous two events. Very few of the tournament's already few superstars delivered, and no new stars were born. On the team side, Turkey, South Korea and the United States acquitted themselves very well and from now on will command a bit more respect in the footballing world. Another thing that will be remembered is the unusual number of grave and potentially match-deciding errors made by some some referees.
Organisationally it did reasonably well given that fact that it was held in two countries highly antagonistic towards each other. The Koreans definitely came out on top in that department.
This event was, I'd say, somewhat better than France '98 but by no means spectactular. I think the 2002 WC will be remembered as the one in which the favourites failed and the (supposedly in decline) traditional powerhouses of the game emerged to prove that they can never be dismissed lightly. Viva Brasil.