Oliver Kahn, regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers to grace the modern game, draws an imposing figure at six foot, two inches and with an almost innate ability to stifle the persistent endeavours of the most talented strikers he can be a frustration for any manager whose team have had the disgruntled pleasure to face him. His performances in the 2002 World Cup for Germany en route to the final looked to be rewarding the Lev Yashin goalkeeper of the tournament with the international silverware he so dearly craved to accompany the numerous honours won at club level.
The footballing gods were however not about to deal the German keeper those cards, as Kahn will no doubt be most remembered for his spilling of a Rivaldo shot to allow team mate Ronaldo to score the first of his two World Cup winning goals in the 2002 Final at the Yokohama stadium.
Ronaldo’s seventh and eighth goals of the tournament scored in front of a crowd of just under 70,000, helped Brazil clinch their fifth World Cup as the exceptional right back Cafu became the first player to lift the Jules Rimet trophy on three consecutive occasions. The newly crowned champions along with their status as the most successful team in World Cup history, in reflection will have felt that they achieved this remarkable feat in a World Cup campaign which cast much doubt as to whether the international football heavyweights would indeed be part of this spectacle in the Far East at all.
In a far from convincing display in the regional qualifiers, Brazil were doing little to suggest that they would eclipse the type of form which led them to losing finalists in the previous World Cup in France back in 1998, infamous for the much documented ‘Ronaldo’ affair. The side led by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, finished third out of four automatic qualifying spots losing six games in the process, most notably to Paraguay and surprise package Ecuador who finished in the second qualification spot behind group winners and pre-tournament favourites Argentina.
Many would have felt that despite such a poor route into the seventeenth World Cup, Brazil would have taken much confidence after being drawn into Group C alongside Costa Rica, World Cup newcomers, China and dark horses Turkey. Brazil met tough opposition in their opening game in the shape of a Turkish side whom they would again meet in the latter stages of the competition. In a highly entertaining game, Brazil fought for a 2-1 victory courtesy of goals from Ronaldo and a controversial penalty from Rivaldo in the last five minutes of the game.
The game however, would prove more iconic for the shameless play acting of Brazilian forward Rivaldo feigning injury to his face as the cameras clearly captured a somewhat different version of the incident. In the further two group matches, goals would flow for the Brazilians as they put four past an enthusiastic China side, a Roberto Carlos thundering free-kick a pick of the goals, and then a 5-2 victory against Costa Rica to ensure that the South Americans would top the group and progress to the second round knockout phase.
The free-scoring Brazil set up an encounter with Group H runners-up Belgium in the second round. The Belgians not regarded amongst the favourites for the World Cup, stifled much of Brazil’s creative play in a game where a packed Belgian midfield frustrated the four-time champions for long periods of the game. Rivaldo again proved the decisive factor as his fourth goal in four games along with a Ronaldo strike in the last half an hour of the game gave Brazil the win to set up a tantalizing quarter-final match-up with England.
England as always were considered amongst the favourites to lift the trophy on June 30th, and their chances were further enhanced by a historic 5-1 defeat of eventual finalists Germany in the qualifiers. England appeared to be gathering momentum with an impressive and encouraging 3-0 second round knockout win against winners of Group A Denmark. They did however fail to meet those continually high expectations finally succumbing to Scolari’s Brazil side. Despite Michael Owen capitalizing on a defensive lapse from Lucio to secure an early lead for England, Rivaldo equalized just before half-time completing a frightening Brazilian counter-attack. A moment of genius came in the fiftieth minute from Ronaldinho as his audacious long-range free-kick was the decisive goal in a game where England could and should have made more of their numerical advantage when the goalscorer was dismissed shortly after determining Brazil’s route into a semi-final meeting with Turkey.
Brazil again disposed of a bullish Turkish side courtesy of a solitary Ronaldo goal. Turkish goalkeeper Rustu Recber, one of the most impressive keepers in the tournament was kept busy by the Brazilian attacking unit, and likewise was the case for his opposite number Marcos. The deadlock was eventually broken in the forty-ninth minute as the irrepressible Ronaldo tore through the Turkish defence to set Brazil towards victory.
The final had now been set and to many a great surprise, threw together two nations who together endured tough qualification campaigns and bizarrely had never faced each other in a World Cup match previously. Germany went into the final missing key midfielder Michael Ballack. The influential midfielder enjoyed a fine a tournament leading overall assists with four and weighing in with three goals. A second yellow card against South Korea in the semi-finals deemed that one of Germany’s most valuable players would miss the final against Brazil. In a somewhat surprisingly attacking approach Germany went closest first in the forty-ninth minute as Bayern Leverkusen forward Oliver Neuville rattled the post of Marcos’s goal with a finely struck free-kick.
It would however, be the eventual Golden Boot winner Ronaldo who would capitalize on a rare Kahn mistake on the sixty-sixth minute and slot the ball into the gaping net. The diminutive striker sealed the historic win twelve minutes later notching his eighth goal courtesy of an assist from midfielder Kleberson. Ronaldo finally laid to bed the traumatic moments which encompassed his previous outing in the World Cup Final back in 1998.
Berated for their performances in the qualifiers, it is somewhat ironic that Brazil top scored with 18 goals in the tournament maintaining a 100% win record that has only ever been replicated by the great Brazil side of the 1970’s. While many discounted their chances of World Cup glory against more likely candidates such as Argentina, who incidentally had the most preparation time in the Far East than any other side in the competition, one factor which appeared to always be in favour for this side and World Cup success was what was strong becoming one of the fiercest attacking triumvirates in international football in the shape of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, and Ronaldo. Better known as the Three R’s’, these three supremely talented players contributed 15 of the 18 goals scored by Brazil in the Finals as they spearheaded a Brazilian attack, which flowed at times, in total tandem terrorizing defences with their flair and an unadulterated ability to attack at great pace.
While no one would dare suggest that this Brazil team of 2002 replicated the ‘Total Football’ synonymous with their predecessors of 1970 or the great 1958 side, a combination of unique individual talent, a squad which showed great industry and work rate, and a leader on the sidelines in the shape of the imposing Big Phil’ Scolari, ensured that the class of 2002 helped to maintain that which is now inextricably linked to the team in the yellow shirts; indisputable passion for the game and most importantly the success to go with it.