The 2002 FIFA World Cup was won by Brazil in spectacular fashion by another one of its golden generations. Today we take a look back at their journey.
When the groups were drawn, Brazil seemed to have been lucky; Brazil’s adversaries would be Turkey, China and Costa Rica. Argentina, which had finished first in the qualifying, would have to face England, Sweden and Nigeria; Argentina didn’t go past the first stage in the cup. In the end, it turned out that Turkey finished the tournament in third place, showing that indeed Brazil’s group was the strongest of all. First match, Brazil beat Turkey by 2 x 1; the second goal came from a wrongly noted penalty (the foul took place far outside the penalty area). The match was important because Felipão could define the structure of the defense: Lúcio and Roque Júnior in the back, Gilberto Silva in the middle, all three players gained Felipão’s confidence; the coach, however, was still looking for someone to play in the mid field, protecting the defense.
This match was even more important for another reason: Ronaldo scored his first goal in this Cup, and started to show that he would be a fundamental piece of the Brazilian team. After Ronaldo’s breakdown in the 1998 Cup, and a sequence of serious injuries in 2000/2001 (when Ronaldo was playing for the Internazionale of Milan), many people said that Ronaldo should not be included in the roster, and, if he ever played, he would never be the same Ronaldo who once inspired fear to the adversaries. Ronaldo was the best Brazilian player against Turkey, and along the tournament proved to be the most important Brazilian player. Brazil used his maximum power against China. The team didn’t play well, but enough to beat the weak China by 4 goals. Ronaldo scored the last goal, and kept building self-confidence. Already qualified to the next stage, Felipão used the match against Costa Rica to make experiments. Brazil won 5-2.
Brazil was the favourite against Belgium. However, the Europeans played very well, and the first goal came only at 20′ of second half, with Rivaldo; when the match was 0 x 0, Wilmots scored for Belgium, but the referee annotated a controversial foul and invalidated the goal. Later on, Ronaldo scored, and Brazil won 2-0. The Brazilian team was much more concerned to play the next match, against England. The Englishmen had survived the group of death, beating Argentina and Sweden, and had easily won strong against Denmark by 3-0. The winner of Brazil vs. England would play against the winner of Turkey vs. Senegal, indicating a high possibility of reaching the semifinals. It was a nervous match, and Owen scored first, after a big failure by Lucio. Then, another Brazilian star shone: Ronaldinho. Still in the first half, he recovered the ball in the Brazilian field and run nearly fifty meters, to serve Rivaldo who tied the match. Then, early in the second half, Ronaldinho was to free kick a seemingly dangerless fault near England’s defense side line; instead of trying to serve a Brazilian fellow, as expected, Ronaldinho kicked the ball very high, as if going over the goal; the ball fell abruptly and entered the goal. Many said it was a fluke (which would make no difference at all), but Ronaldinho said that he knew that Seaman, the English goalkeeper, had the bad habit of staying too far from the goal during the matches. Even after Ronaldinho was sent off (for violent play), Brazil kept the control, and won 2-1, which had been the most difficult match till then.
The semifinal was against Turkey, which Brazil had won only because of a referee’s mistake. Again, this match was difficult, with the Brazilian winning with a goal by Ronaldo, early in the second half. For the first time in History, the two countries with best performance in World Cups, Brazil and Germany, would play against each other; moreover, the match would be the final of the tournament. Despite the mutual respect, Brazilians felt they were favourite to the title. Whereas Brazil would start with Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Denílson, all capable of scoring a goal and deciding the match in a moment, Germany’s main star was the goalkeeper Oliver Khan (who was elected by the FIFA Commission as the best player of the tournament). Many people recalled, however, that Brazil was favourite against France in 1998, but ended up losing by 3-0. The Brazilian victory by 2-0, two goals by Ronaldo in the second half, was not a surprise, but the referee’s final whistle was a relief. Brazil, which was the only four times world champion, was now an even more distinguished five times world cup champion.