Once upon a time… the most bizarre World Cup in history was preparing for their final show. The 2002 World Cup had an endless list of controversies, stories and shocks in a span of just under a month. Some of the best teams in the World like Argentina and France had been unable to make it out of the group stage, Senegal and the United States made it to the quarterfinals, Italy were robbed in the Round of 16, and Turkey and South Korea were semifinalist. Despite it being known as the underdog’s World Cup, the two most successful nations on the planet had made it to the 2002 World Cup final .
Brazil had reached their third straight World Cup final and were on top of the World. They had the best striker in the World accompanied by one of the most creative and breathtaking midfielder. “Joga Bonito” was on full swing and Brazil led the tournament with 16 goals scored.
On the other side of the pitch was the fearful German side led by Oliver Kahn, best goalkeeper of the tournament. Throughout the entire tournament, they had received one single goal which happened to be during their 1-1 draw against Ireland in the group stage. Not necessarily known for their offense, Germany had reached the final after three straight 1-0 victories against Paraguay, United States and South Korea. Nonetheless, Kahn had been a brick wall and would need to maintain that form to stop Ronaldo.
Brazil, and especially Ronaldo, still had the sting of the 1998 World Cup final. An embarrassing 3-0 defeat had left them heartbroken and devastated. For Ronaldo, the 2002 World Cup had served as a chance to demonstrate that he was still the breathtaking striker he had been before his injuries. Many had criticized Scolari for calling him up despite not been very active in previous seasons. However, once the tournament concluded, it’s safe to say that the critics began applauding Scolari.
At the start of the game, the entire World had their eyes set on Ronaldo to see if he can make up for 1998. Within the first few minutes, he quickly demonstrated that he meant business. It took 18 minutes for the brazilian to have his first glance at goal. A beautiful through ball by Ronaldinho found a gap between Germany’s defense. Thanks to his speed, Ronaldo was able to meet the ball perfectly and was in a great position to put it past Kahn. Shockingly, he put it well wide. Despite the ball rolling far away from goal, it served as a warning to the Germans.
Eleven minutes later, it was Ronaldo again who was on the verge of making it 1-0. Again, it was his favorite partner in crime, Ronaldinho, who chipped the ball perfectly over the German line and right to Ronaldo’s feet. He tried to bring it down with his left mood mid stride but a weird bounce prevented him from dominating the ball. Despite reaching out to meet the ball, he came just short and Kahn was able to secure the ball. Two clear chances for Ronaldo who had uncharacteristically failed to control the ball. Germany were just hanging on.
Just before half, Germany’s defense fell asleep for a split second and it allowed Kleberson to find the ball in the gap. The speedy midfielder tested his luck with a powerful shot to the far post but his shot, much like Ronaldo’s was way wide.
A couple of seconds later, it was Kleberson again who had a glorious chance. He received the ball a couple of yards outside of the box and whipped out an almost perfectly placed shot. Kahn had no chance at ever reaching that ball but it was the post that denied Kleberson.
During stoppage time, Roberto Carlos took a shot from well outside the box and after a couple bounces, it reached Ronaldo right at the penalty mark. The Brazilian’s volley was acrobatically blocked by Kahn’s feet after the keeper had initially divided the other way. Ronaldo could’ve easily had a hat trick in just 45 minutes of play but somehow, the score remained 0-0.
Germany’s first chance came just three minutes into the second half after a rocket by Oliver Neuville hit the woodwork. An absurd free kick from well out had caught Brazil’s Marcos by surprise but the post saved him on that occasion.
In the 66th minute, Ronaldo’s hard work on defense saw him win back a ball that he had lost inside Germany’s half. He disposed his marker with a perfect use of the body and fed the ball to Rivaldo. Rivaldo saw his shot blocked by Kahn once again but with Germany’s defense once again asleep, Ronaldo ran up and put away the rebound to make it 1-0. A costly mistake for Kahn who had played an amazing game otherwise. In reality, Kahn should’ve done much better with that shot but instead he placed it on a silver platter for the best striker in the World. As for Ronaldo, it was a play that he initiated after winning the ball back and following the shot. Somewhat of a routine play by every striker that usually has no reward. This time, it had them 24 minutes away from a World Cup trophy.
Just twelve minutes later, the Brazilians doubled their lead after a beautiful run by Kleberson. The play started back in Brazil’s own half when Cafu dominated the ball and played it to Kleberson who went on a run parallel to the sideline. Despite having Cafu on the overlap, Kleberson sent in a low cross to Rivaldo on top of the box. Just as the ball was arriving at Rivaldo’s feet, the then-Barcelona striker dummied it perfectly leaving it to Ronaldo. Unlike in the first half, Ronaldo’s first touch was perfect and he placed the ball right into the far post and out of Kahn’s reach.
Despite an amazing performance by Oliver Kahn, Ronaldo had found a way to score not once but twice in a World Cup final. He terrorized the German defense the entire 90 minutes and capitalized after Kahn’s only mistake that game. His return was imminent. No injury could detain a player of his caliber. After his second goal, we were able to see that buck tooth smile and his signature finger waving once again.
It was Brazil’s fifth and final World Cup title to date. Everyone on that squad except Kleberson and Kaka have retired at this point and although the team has improved in the past year, they are far from a World Cup final. On the other hand, Germany continued dominating and have reached four straight World Cup semi finals since 2002. Their success in 2014 means that Germany is just one World Cup title behind Brazil’s five.
In my opinion, the greatest striker that’s ever lived. A player like no other. If it weren’t for injuries, Ronaldo would’ve been in the discussion for best player in history. On that 30th of June in Yokohama, Japan, Ronaldo put a performance of a lifetime as the World watched with awe and Brazil lifted the World Cup.