A Personal History of the World Cup: Part Seven
Between 1998 and 2002 I fell headlong into the role of a bona fide football tragic. I had travelled to the UK and played park football in Regents Park, London and the Meadows, Edinburgh. I had worked behind the scenes at Ashton Gate, Bristol and Stamford Bridge, Chelsea. I had played Sunday League for the infamous Easton Cowboys. My partner and I had also backpacked around Spain and Portugal during Euro 2000. Eating bocadillas and drinking La Rioja in heaving bodegas, watching the boyish Nuno Gomes charm his way into Portuguese hearts, and Trezeguet snatch the Euro and World Cup double for France with a golden goal against Italy. When I returned to Wellington I rejoined the park football at Nairn Park and it was there that I recruited into a social team; Wellington United Salmon.
So when Korea-Japan 02 finally hoved into view I was ready for my next fix of World Cup fever.
I can't remember anticipating an opening game of a tournament quite as much as this. France, the European and World Champs, up against their colonial subjects Senegal. France were expected to dial it in and pick up the three points. Senegal had other ideas. A man with the implausible name of Papa Bouba Diop scrambled the ball over the line to give Senegal a famous victory, and then he danced a merry jig at the corner flag, one of my favourite goal celebrations of all time. France went on to be eliminated from the Cup without scoring a goal- the worst title defense ever.
This was the World Cup of the underdog- which was great for a neutral from an underdog footballing nation. Senegal, USA, South Korea, Turkey,& Japan all defied the odds and escaped their groups. Amazingly South Korea and Turkey were one game away from the World Cup final- a scenario most punters would scarcely have dreamed of.
But it was Senegal which produced the move of the tournament. An amazingly fluid counter attack against Denmark. To me this is the most perfect team goal. (It begins at 20secs on this video):
For me the final was bit of a let down- yes there was the story of redemption for the buck toothed Ronaldo, who played so poorly in the 1998 final, and yet scored a brace to beat Germany in the 2002 final and crown Brazil Penta Campeao. But to me the Brazilians were unworthy winners, their reputation as upholders of all that is golden about the game was tarnished by the worst piece of gamesmanship in the very first game:
After that disgraceful act I couldn't cheer for Brazil in the final, nor could I cheer for Germany after years of supporting England.
The Third place play-off between Turkey and South Korea defined the tournament. It was a great game, played in front of a roaring South Korean crowd. Hakan Sukur, the Turkish striker who was expected to fire in this tournament but didn't. (Imagine what Turkey could have achieved with him scoring?) Sukur scored the fastest goal in World Cup history, his only one of the tournament: