According to the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, "failure is the foundation of success". So despite a less than memorable record in international football, there was great excitement and expectancy among the fans of the two co-hosts before Asia's first world football finals. And Korea Republic and Japan rose to the challenge, combining single-mindedness and flexibility, as well as hospitality and security.
The success surpassed everyone's wildest dreams. For the first time, the FIFA World Cup™ was held in Asia, a continent previously thought by many to have no great interest in the world of football. But those sceptics had no choice but to sit back and enjoy the wonderful spectacle that unfolded before the eyes of the world in May/June 2002.
The tournament, played in two countries, was organised to perfection. The teams were welcomed with open arms when they arrived in their chosen bases before the tournament even began. Countless memories will never die: the welcome reserved for the Cameroon team upon their arrival in Japan; the stadiums filled to capacity - even for warm-up matches against local teams; the crowds gathered around giant screens; the scenes of pure ecstasy at the Nakata.net café…
Despite initial concerns, no team complained about the plane connections between Japan and Korea from the round of 16 onwards. The security measures inside the stadiums were not even put to the test as the spectators conducted themselves in exemplary fashion, although the same number of fans - just over 2.7 million - passed through the turnstiles as at France 98.
The two host nations, especially Korea, enjoyed unexpected runs sparking scenes of unprecedented joy that never once spiralled out of control. However, Philippe Troussier's men saw their journey come to an end in the round of 16. But the Japanese fans never lost their good humour, opting instead to follow the fortunes of other teams such as England or Brazil. Many people in the Land of the Rising Sun even copied David Beckham's distinctive hairstyle! The party atmosphere remained untouched by violence, and although the Japanese police force were trained and prepared for riots involving foreign hooligans, their main task was to rescue jubilant home supporters who had jumped into a river to celebrate their heroes reaching the round of 16!
And what is there to say about Korea? The wonderful sea of red that continued to swell as the Korean "Red Devils" advanced through the tournament left the watching world speechless. Before the tournament, the Korean fans longed for just one thing - a first victory in the world's greatest football tournament. Understandably, the team's qualification for the round of 16 was regarded as a major achievement, their advance to the quarters was seen as unbelievable and their progress to the semis was almost a case of divine intervention! No less than six million people, every single one seemingly dressed from head to toe in red, took to the streets for the semi-final to sing, dance, scream and cry in support of their team. Despite seeing Korea finally succumb to defeat, the party continued into the night - naturally without the merest hint of trouble.
This award is therefore in recognition of the exemplary behaviour of both sets of fans, from the first whistle to the last. The success, on a sporting as well as a logistical level, also helped to establish the two nations' supremacy on their home continent. At the round of 16 match that Japan lost to Turkey in Miyagi, a banner summed up the convivial atmosphere that pervaded in the Asian spring of 2002 - "Welcome to Blue Paradise".