Korea/Japan 2001: French masterclass in the East
Winning is a habit, and in 2001 the World and European champions had not yet kicked that habit. Despite missing Fabien Barthez and Zinedine Zidane, France could still call on Patrick Vieira, Sylvain Wiltord, Marcel Desailly et al, and they were just too good for the opposition. Korea/Japan 2001 will also be remembered for Robert Pires' consistently sparkling performances. Any doubts as to his status as a truly world-class performer were quickly dispelled as the Arsenal star stamped his class on the tournament. Easy wins over Korea Republic (5-0) and Mexico (4-0) were enough to see France through to the semis, before they went down to a shock 1-0 defeat to Australia in their last group game.
Their semi-final pitted them against Brazil in a rematch of the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™ Final. The game never really lived up to the pre-match hype though, "Les Bleus" easing through 2-1, and in truth the Final against Japan was a relatively disappointing affair as well. Patrick Vieira's goal and the Europeans' greater big-match experience were the difference between the two sides, and France were crowned champions.
This tournament was packed with class sides - and that included the so-called minnows. Australia and Japan, for example, more than held their own en route to third and second place respectively. The Oceania representatives, coached by Frank Farina, were constantly on the front foot, driving the opposition back towards their own goal at every opportunity. That positive ploy secured them memorable wins over France and Brazil, and the Aussies would have been disappointed to get the better of two of the best teams in the world, only to come unstuck against the Asian representatives, first Korea Republic in the group stage then Japan in the semi-finals.
Philippe Troussier's Japan side took great heart from topping Group B after wins over Canada (3-0) and Cameroon (2-0), and a creditable0-0 draw with Brazil. Their enthusiastic displays of attack-minded football thrilled the fervent home crowds and proved too much for Australia in the semi-final too. France eventually had too much savoir-faire for them in the Final, but Junichi Inamoto, Shinji Ono and friends could look forward optimistically to Korea/Japan 2002, where they would become the first Japanese side to qualify for the last sixteen of a FIFA World Cup.
Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, France, Japan, Mexico and Korea Republic.
Daegu, Suwon, Ulsan (Korea Republic)
Ibaraki, Niigata, Yokohama (Japan)
- Shaun Murphy (AUS), Patrick Vieira (FRA), Robert Pires (FRA), Eric Carrière (FRA), Sylvain Wiltord (FRA), Takayuki Suzuki (JPN) and Sun Hong Hwang (KOR), 2 goals