Germany had got off the perfect start in their attempt to qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup™. They strolled to a 2-0 victory at home to Greece before travelling in October 2000 to England. Dietmar Hamann's now legendary 14th minute free-kick spoiled the Three Lions' farewell to the old Wembley Stadium and gave Germany three priceless points on the road to Korea and Japan.
They kept up their 100 per cent record at home to Albania (2-1) and away to Greece (4-2), and it was not until the fifth match of the campaign that the 1990 champions dropped any points, drawing 2-2 in Finland.
Another win, this time 2-0 in Albania, meant that Germany were in the driving seat for their home match against England, but the country that invented the beautiful game were out for revenge and handed out a now equally legendary 5-1 thrashing in Munich. This put England back in the driver's seat in the race for direct qualification for the tournament in the Far East.
The two arch-rivals were level on points going into the final round of matches, but Beckham and his cohorts had the better goal difference, a factor which became crucial when, despite England only managing to scrape a point in the last-gasp 2-2 draw at home to Greece, Germany found themselves held to a goalless draw at home to Finland. The Mannschaft were thus faced with the unenviable task of a two-leg play-off against Ukraine, who had finished second behind Poland in Group 5.
14 November 2001, Westfalenstadion, Dortmund (Germany)
Germany 4-1 Ukraine
Goals: Michael Ballack (4', 51'), Oliver Neuville (11'), Marko Rehmer (15') for Germany; Andriy Shevchenko (90') for Ukraine
Germany: Oliver Kahn, Marko Rehmer (87' Frank Baumann), Jens Nowotny, Thomas Linke, Bernd Schneider, Dietmar Hamann, Carsten Ramelow, Christian Ziege, Michael Ballack, Oliver Neuville (70' Lars Ricken), Carsten Jancker (57' Oliver Bierhoff).
Coach: Rudi Voller.
Ukraine: Maxym Levitsky, Oleg Luzhny, Vladyslav Vaschuk, Alexandr Golovko, Andriy Nesmachniy (55' Alexandr Golovko), Gennadiy Zubov, Dmytro Parfyonov, Anatoliy Tymoschuk (24' Andriy Gusin), Victor Skripnik, Andriy Shevchenko, Andriy Vorobey (70' Sergei Rebrov).
Coach: Valeri Lobanovsky.
Germany had never missed out on a FIFA World Cup™ due to sporting reasons, meaning that the pressure on Rudi Voller and his men was enormous. They managed to come away from Kiev with a 1-1 draw however, meaning that they had their noses in front at least in psychological terms for the home leg a few days later.
52,400 fans were packed into a sold-out Westfalenstadion and got right behind the team from the opening minute, and it soon become crystal clear that nothing was going to stop Germany from booking their ticket for Korea and Japan.
Ballack had the fans on their feet as early as the fourth minute as he headed home a pin-point cross from Schneider to give the home side a 1-0 lead. Seven minutes later and it was another Bayer Leverkusen player who had the crowd in ecstasy as Neuville finished from point-blank range after defender Rehmer had come close with a header.
Voller's men maintained their frenetic pace and Rehmer got the goal that he coveted a mere four minutes later to make it 3-0 after only a quarter of an hour, planting home a header from eight yards out from a Neuville corner. There was more of the same after the break as Germany certainly did not take their foot off the pedal. Neuville controlled Schneider's length-of-the-field pass to perfection and centred for Ballack to score his second of the evening. Shevchenko's strike in the 90th minute was the archetypal consolation goal.
Ballack was very much the man who made the difference on the night. In the away leg in Kiev he had already been the driving force behind his team and was largely responsible for the 1-1 draw which Germany were able to take back with them. With a partisan crowd behind him in the home leg, he was even better.
"This was the kind of display that we had been wanting to put on for a while. We handled the pressure and put in a great performance. Everything is back on track again." Michael Ballack, Germany midfielder.
"When you think about how the last eight or nine weeks have been, you can imagine how relieved I am." Rudi Voller, Germany coach.
What happened next
Ukraine missed out on qualifying for their first ever FIFA World Cup and had to wait another four years for Germany 2006 to come around, where their dream finally came true. Rudi Voller's men were off to Asia however, where they were given what looked like the best possible draw in a group with Republic of Ireland, Cameroon and Saudi Arabia.
Germany opened their 2002 account with an 8-0 thrashing of the Saudis, before the Irish brought them down to earth with a bump by holding them to a 1-1 draw. Goals from Marco Bode and Miroslav Klose were enough to see off Cameroon in the final group match and send Germany into the knockout phase, where a late Neuville strike edged them past a tough Paraguay side 1-0.
Squeezing through was the order of the day in the quarters and semis, where 1-0 was again the scoreline in wins over USA and Korea Republic. This was as good as it was to get for Oliver Kahn and his men however, as they went down 2-0 in the Final to a Brazil team on the road to a record fifth FIFA World Cup crown.