Classic World Cups: South Korea/Japan 2002
With the 2018 World Cup just weeks away, we’re taking a look back at some of the most memorable World Cups of all time.
First up, the case for an eventful World Cup in South Korea and Japan back in 2002…
2002 is a World Cup that still splits opinion to this day, and a tournament that forced every football fan to face the question: is the world’s best football tournament any worse for losing most of its big hitters early on?
Whilst it was a tournament lacking in genuine quality, it certainly delivered in terms of entertainment value. No World Cup before or since has produced so many genuinely jaw-dropping shocks, from holders France crashing out without even registering a win, to joint-hosts South Korea riding the crest of a wave to a surprise semi-final finish.
Here are five reasons why 2002 should rank up there with the best…
The year of the shock
As mentioned earlier, where 2002 ranks in the all-time list of great World Cups depends on your love of an underdog story. Some fans hated the early exits of major players France, Argentina, Portugal and Italy.
For football romantics, however, there was something refreshing at seeing several pre-tournament favourites exposed for their complacency whilst less talented but determined sides including Turkey, South Korea, Senegal and the United States flourished.
Surprise success for South Korea
Any great World Cup needs the host country to remain in play as deep into a tournament as possible, and plucky joint-hosts South Korea more than exceeded expectations on home soil – with some luck thrown in for good measure.
The South Koreans knocked out European giants Italy and Spain to become the first Asian team to reach a semi-final. Their victory over Spain was helped by some hugely controversial refereeing decisions, with two goals that looked legitimate for the Spaniards disallowed.
It wouldn’t have happened with VAR…
Redemption for Beckham
Becks went from pantomime villain to national treasure in the stroke of one successful penalty kick as England defeated old rivals Argentina and the England captain banished memories of his rash kick in ’98 on Diego Simeone.
Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side held on to their 1-0 lead for one of their most famous World Cup wins, and more importantly, three precious points in the quest to escape 2002’s Group of Death.
Ronaldo’s triumphant return
2002 was Ronaldo’s chance to atone for one of the major disappointments in his career.
The 1998 World Cup final was overshadowed by a mysterious incident involving the Brazilian goalscoring legend, where he was initially not named in the starting line-up, before being re-instated just moments before kick-off.
The ex-Inter and Real Madrid striker has since confirmed he suffered a fit just hours before the final which shocked many of his teammates. His understandably subdued performance contributed to a heavy 3-0 defeat for the heavily-fancied Brazilians to hosts France.
The 2002 final was Ronaldo’s chance to put a line through the disappointment – and he more than delivered, scoring two goals as Brazil claimed a record fifth World Cup at the expense of Germany.
Roy Keane’s meltdown
It happened pre-tournament, but nonetheless Roy Keane’s stormy exit from Ireland’s training camp became one of the major talking points of the tournament as the Irish captain missed out on his only chance of appearing at a World Cup after a massive bust-up with manager, Mick McCarthy.
The ‘Saipan Incident’ – as it became known – would divide Irish fans but had a galvanising effect on the squad as they successfully reached the knockout stages before an unlucky penalty defeat to Spain. Keane and McCarthy have since put their differences behind them.
Where does the 2002 World Cup rank for you?