Brazil finishes surprising Cup

Posted: Tuesday, July 02, 2002

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Senegal wasn't supposed to beat France. The United States wasn't supposed to scare the soccer powers. And Brazil, mighty Brazil, wasn't supposed to run off with the World Cup.

It figures that in a tournament filled with surprises, soccer's most accomplished nation would be an unexpected winner of its fifth championship, two more than any other country.

But at the end of the first World Cup in Asia -- and first with co-hosts -- there stood Brazil, led by the revitalized Ronaldo.

''What created a big difference was the individual quality of each player, and that at certain times was the factor that brought superiority,'' Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said.

Scolari was the mastermind of this Brazilian championship, and he had to work harder than most coaches just to get the South Americans into the tournament. Plagued by injuries and discord, Brazil nearly didn't make it through qualifying, and was considered an outsider to the French, Argentines, Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese.

But while France was losing the opener to unheralded Senegal, then going scoreless and out of the World Cup after three games, Brazil was winning its group.

While Argentina was ousted right away, the Americans -- on the way to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1930 -- and the South Koreans combined to knock out Portugal.

South Korea, enlivened by its red-clad fans who stood and sang throughout every match while millions watched on huge television screens in city plazas, won for the first time in six World Cup visits. Then it eliminated Italy and Spain to get to the semifinals, the best showing ever by an Asian team.

Turkey, in its first World Cup since 1954, also made a stunning surge into the semis. But it lost twice to Brazil, which ignored all the hubbub around it and sambaed into the title game against Germany.

The U.S. run ended with a 1-0 loss to the coldly efficient Germans in the quarterfinals. It was the best U.S. showing in a modern World Cup.

The Americans see it as a building block for the 2006 tournament in Germany.

''It's just a matter of respect,'' coach Bruce Arena said. ''We've earned a little bit more, but not enough. That's fine. We have to keep moving forward and try to get better. The one way you shut everyone up is you win. ... You've got to step on the field and just beat them. Period. Bottom line.''

Germany, a true bottom-line team, also ended South Korea's dreams in the semifinals. Like Brazil, Germany was not a favorite this year despite a rich soccer history that includes three World Cup titles. Injuries and indifferent performances before the tournament made it a long shot.

Yet, in the final, there stood the two most successful countries in soccer history.

Ultimately, towering above everyone else, was Ronaldo.

His two goals in the final, the only scores of the game, gave him a tournament-high eight, the most since 1970. The 25-year-old striker also has 12 in his World Cup career, tying the greatest player of them all, Pele, among Brazilians.

The man who four years ago was ill and played poorly in a championship-game loss to France -- then endured two years of knee injuries and operations -- turned the World Cup into his very own showcase.

''My great victory was to return to the pitch, to play soccer, to score goals,'' Ronaldo said. ''I believe that even if we had lost, I had conquered my personal victory, which was to play again.''

Thankfully, his brilliance erased some of the ugliness of the 32-team, monthlong tournament. There was outrage over the officiating, particularly from the Italians and Spaniards, and even criticism from FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

European teams also complained their players were so exhausted from the ever-lengthening club seasons that they were not fit for the World Cup. Odd how that didn't seem to bother all the Brazilians, Germans and Turks who play in Europe.

There was a ticketing mess that left thousands of empty seats for early round games. Even a game involving co-host Japan, which advanced to the second round for the first time, did not attract a full stadium -- despite a heavy demand for tickets. Organizers blamed the company FIFA hired for distributing tickets; FIFA blamed South Korean and Japanese organizers.

In the end, though, South Korea and Japan will be left with the memory of encouraging performances by their teams, avid support from the fans and 10 new soccer stadiums in each nation.

While the memories will be bitter for all the complainers and teams that went home early, World Cup 2002 was special for the likes of Senegal and Turkey, the United States and Germany.

And, of course, Brazil.

''For the sixth world title, we'll have to wait a little,'' Ronaldo said. ''We'll celebrate this one a lot, and we have four years to think.

''Other goals will appear. I'm very ambitious.''



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