Cup memories, from Ahn to ZidanePosted: Monday July 01, 2002 9:51 AM
Updated: Tuesday July 02, 2002 10:31 AM
CNNSI.com's World Cup analyst Gabriele Marcotti covered every kick of the tournament.
A is for Ahn (Jung-Hwan), whose late heroics helped his team to a historic World Cup upset against Italy, and who then found himself an unwilling protagonist in Perugia chairman Luciano Gaucci's moronic publicity-seeking. Thankfully, it was Ahn who got the last laugh, turning down Perugia after it first said it didn't want him and then announced it would, in fact, pick up his contract. And to those who criticized him for his speed-skating celebration against the U.S.: Can you please lighten up? A little bit of rivalry and ribbing is healthy and fun... and do we really care about speed-skating?
B is for Ballack (Michael), whose goal lifted Germany to the final, a final he was doomed to miss through suspension; Beckham (David), who made more headlines with his haircut than his play; and Basturk (Yldiray), who reminded us that you don't have to be Brazilian to play like one. All three have bright futures ahead of them though, unlike Bielsa (Marcelo), who managed to squander Argentina's immense potential thanks to his stubborn tactical pigheadedness.
C is for Chilavert (Jose Luis), who promised he would score two goals in this tournament and then nearly was responsible for Paraguay's early exit with two megablunders against Spain. C is also for Cafu, the only man to have played in three straight World Cup finals, and for Cuevas (Nelson), whose heroics undid Chilavert's blunders.
D is for diving, also known as simulation in FIFA-speak. It's reprehensible, yes, but no more so than players who deliberately try to injure opponents (thankfully we didn't see too much of the latter). Still it's disappointing that emerging stars such as Duff (Damien) and Diouf (El Hadji) got away with it and won penalties for their nations. A video panel to issue sanctions after the match would help tremendously in this department.
E is Eire (Ireland), gutsy and proud. The fact that this motley assortment of lower-division types, career substitutes and the odd promising youngster managed to shackle the eventual finalist Germany without its only true world-class star (Roy Keane) borders on the miraculous. It's also for Eriksson (Sven Goran), on whom the jury is still out. Yes, England did not embarrass itself like in some previous World Cups. But then again it also played some of the dullest Catenaccio soccer since the worst excesses of Italy in the 1960s.
F is France, the biggest dud of all, which bowed out of the tournament without scoring a single goal (just like Saudi Arabia and China). But underachieving does not make you a permanently bad player. Once the veteran deadwood has been rooted out (bye-bye Christophe Dugarry, Youri Djorkaeff, Franck Leboeuf, etc.), France will be brimming with the talent of David Trezeguet, Thierry Henry and the under-21 gang that reached the European finals.
G is for Germany, unloved, unappreciated, underestimated, unfancied and still capable of clawing its way to the final of the World Cup.
H is for Hierro (Fernando), the battling captain and, probably, the only defender who is his country's all-time leading scorer. H is also for Hong (Myung-Bo) who embodies the spirit of KTF -- Korea Team Fighting -- along with his manager Hiddink (Guus), maybe the most popular foreigner in the history of his country.
I is for Inamoto (Junichi) a whirling dervish for Japan, a sad figure in the stands for Arsenal. May he get playing team somewhere so we can figure out if he's any good. I is also for Ibrahimovic (Zlatan) and Izmailov (Marat): remember those names, they'll come good in four years' time for Sweden and Russia respectively.
J is for Julius and Jay-Jay, better known as Aghahowa and Okocha. One is a budding superstar, the other is near the end of his career. Both are outrageously gifted and it's a shame we didn't see more of them in the competition.
K is for Korea, a nation that embraced its team and pushed it to new heights, proving that there is such as a thing as a 12th man.
L is for Lemerre (Roger) a hopelessly overmatched coach who led France to oblivion. It's also for linesmen (assistant referees to the pedantic), who blew more calls in this World Cup than any in recent history. May FIFA learn its lesson.
M is for Missing-in-Action, guys whose World Cup will be remembered for limited opportunities, but who are fine footballers nonetheless. Hernan Crespo, Vincenzo Montella, Vincent Candela, Pius Ndiefi, Davor Vugrinec, Dimitri Sichev... here's hoping you get your opportunity to shine elsewhere.
N is for North, as in North Korea, so close and yet so far. May they draw joy from their neighbors' success and may no politician on either side use soccer for political purposes.
O is for Ollie, as in Kahn, the uber-goalkeeper. Nobody had so singlehandedly carried his team to the final since a guy named Diego Armando Maradona. If he's not the best, he's pretty darn close -- despite his blunder in the final.
P is for power, as in "the balance of." Has it shifted away from Europe and South America? We can debate it for a long time; we ought to have a clearer picture in four years. It's also for pulling, as in shirts: Yes, it's annoying to watch, but all it takes to stop it is consistent action from referees.
Q is for quality. Old-timers and people who always hark back to the good old days will always complain about the present, citing a lack of quality and talent. It's a futile thing to do. We always remember the good things about the past and not the bad, so just sit back and enjoy the present.
R is for Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, names that roll off the tongue just as Brazil rolled through the competition. Remember though that it was a G (Gilberto Silva) and a K (Kleberson) whose selfless hard work helped the Rs strut their stuff.
S is for Senegal, who slew the defending champions and became the second African team in history to advance to the quarterfinals. A tiny nation with a big heart. It's also for Scolari (Luiz Felipe), a guy to whom the critics (in Brazil and elsewhere) owe a big apology: He proved that you can put results above everything else and still play tremendous, entertaining soccer.
T is for Tomasson (Jon Dahl), whose four goals helped Denmark escape from a difficult group stage, and Torrado (Gerardo), who was a perpetual-motion machine in the heart of the Mexican midfield while scoring one of the goals of the tournament.
U is for United States , which brought Portugal to its knees and nearly did the same with Germany. When Alan Rothenberg said the objective was to be in position to win the World Cup by 2010, everybody laughed at him (including yours truly). Now it doesn't seem that ridiculous... though it's still a long way off.
V is for Vieri (Christian). Will he be remembered for his four goals (plus another two dubiously disallowed) or for the dreadful miss in the dying moment of the South Korea match? How about looking forward to the fact that he'll be teaming up with Ronaldo at Inter Milan next season in what could be the greatest strike force in recent history?
W is for Wilmots (Marc), the old warrior once again lifting the entire Belgian side on his back and taking it into the second round. He even achieved the ultimate miracle, scoring a goal that might have knocked Brazil out of the tournament if the referee had not spotted a foul that nobody else seemed to notice.
X is for X-factor, that little bit of magic and unpredictability that makes watching this sport so much fun. It's the element that, on the day, can turn average players into superstars and vice versa. It's the reason Turkey and South Korea storm into the semifinals, while Argentina and France skulk off home in a storm of controversy. It's why we love this sport.
Y is for Yoo (Sang Chul) , who man-marked Ballack in the semifinal erasing him completely from the flow of the game, but for one fateful handful of seconds... which were enough for Germany to score the decisive goal, reminding us that the margin between victory and defeat is paper-thin.
Z is for Zinedine Zidane, and his one, unhappy appearance in the tournament. OK, so he has already won assorted club titles, the Champions League, the European championships and the World Cup. But you can bet what happened to him still hurts just as much and he will blame himself for not being fit.