Brazil and Germany had racked up 32 world finals appearances between them prior to the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, winning a combined total of 100 matches and seven world titles in that time. Curiously, though, these two leviathans of the game had never met in the competition in its previous 16 editions, a quirk of fate that only raised expectations ahead of their first ever World Cup showdown, in the Final of Korea/Japan 2002 in Yokohama.
The stakes for that maiden encounter could not have been greater, with the FIFA World Cup Trophy not the only honour up for grabs. Victory for Die Mannschaft would allow them to pull level with Brazil on four tournament wins, while success for the South Americans would give them their fifth world title, two more than their nearest challengers, Germany and Italy.
FIFA.com looks back to the evening of 30 June 2002 in Yokohama, when two of the biggest teams in the game finally came face to face on the biggest stage of all.
Brazil had been far from impressive in reaching Korea/Japan 2002. Dogged by poor form, A Seleção had no fewer than four coaches in a turbulent qualifying campaign, and their build-up for the tournament was shrouded in controversy. Luiz Felipe Scolari, the latest incumbent in the dugout, named Ronaldo and Rivaldo in his squad despite the former’s lack of match practice and the latter’s rusty form, while overlooking fans’ favourite Romario. Another area in which Felipão attracted criticism was in his use of a 3-5-2 formation, which went against the traditions of Brazilian football, more accustomed as it was to 4-3-3 or the 4-4-2 that brought the country its fourth world title at USA 1994.
The Brazilian media dubbed the squad the “Scolari Family”, a nickname that reflected the strong bond between the coach and his players. Scolari was the staunchest possible defender of his men, and when the World Cup got under way his team showed he had got his tactics just right.
The 3-5-2 formation made the most of the attacking instincts of full-backs Cafu and Roberto Carlos, with Kleberson and Gilberto Silva sitting tight to provide cover for the defence. Up front, meanwhile, the three Rs dovetailed to perfection, with Ronaldinho excelling in a roving role just behind Ronaldo and Rivaldo, who justified their coach’s faith by hitting form at the right time. Winning all their games, A Seleção checked into the Final in style.
Germany also had their problems in qualifying, leading their group before being cut down to size in their penultimate match at home to England, which ended in a painful 5-1 defeat. That result ultimately condemned the side coached by Michael Skibbe and Rudi Voller to the play-offs, where they faced Ukraine. After securing a 1-1 draw in Kiev, the Germans made sure of a trip to the Far East with 4-1 win in Dortmund in the return.
Though comprehensive, that victory failed to inspire much confidence in Germany’s chances at Korea/Japan 2002. This was, after all, the first time they had ever failed to qualify directly for the world finals, though any doubts about their ability to compete were quickly dispelled when they put eight goals past Saudi Arabia without reply in their opening group game, with Miroslav Klose scoring a hat-trick. The striker struck twice more en route to the Final, just one less to that point than Ronaldo, the tournament’s leading goalscorer.
Tactically astute as ever, the Germans were particularly indebted to two of their star names: goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who had conceded just the once, in the group phase, and midfield powerhouse Michael Ballack, who scored the goals that gave his side respective 1-0 wins over USA and co-hosts Korea Republic in the quarter-finals and the semis.
The stage was set then for an engrossing Final that would pit two of the world’s greatest sides together, with the tournament’s most potent attack – spearheaded by a revitalised Ronaldo – going toe to toe with the most miserly defence – marshalled by Kahn, unrivalled as the game's best keeper at that time.
The contrast in styles between the two sides soon became evident, with the Germans quickly closing their opponents down, attempting to exploit space on the flanks and trying their luck with a series of long balls and long shots, all of which the Brazilian defence dealt with admirably. The opening ten minutes were keenly contested, with neither side holding anything back, as reflected by the early yellow cards dished out by Italian referee Pierluigi Collina to Roque Junior and Miroslav Klose.
Ballack, Germany’s hero of the previous two rounds, was suspended for the game, leaving Klose to lead the search for goals. A breakthrough almost came his way when Bernd Schneider sent in a dangerous low cross from the right, with only some alert defending preventing the ball from finding its way to the predatory German marksman.
Though making do with less possession, A Seleção nevertheless looked sharp on the break, their first real chance coming on 18 minutes when Ronaldinho put Ronaldo through on goal, only for the No9 to shoot wide with just Kahn to beat. Though Brazil upped the pressure before the break, with Kleberson hitting the bar from distance and Kahn having to use his foot to keep out a low Ronaldo shot, the score remained goalless as the sides headed in for half-time.
Oliver Neuville almost fashioned a goal for Germany on the restart, with goalkeeper Marcos touching his long free-kick on to the post. Didier Hamann then made some space for himself on the edge of the box before unleashing a powerful shot that went just wide of Marcos’ goal.
The match remained deadlocked until 22 minutes from time, when a rare error by Kahn effectively settled the outcome. After winning back possession just outside the German penalty box and laying the ball off to Rivaldo, Ronaldo continued his run into the area and was on hand to tuck the ball home after Kahn had spilled Rivaldo’s shot, giving the Brazilians a lead they would not relinquish.
With no option but to go on the attack Die Mannschaft left their opponents with plenty of space to exploit. And exploit it they did. With 11 minutes left on the clock, Kleberson collected a pass from Cafu and hared off down the right before playing the ball to Rivaldo, who was stationed on the edge of the box. The No10 simply steeped over the ball, letting it run onto Ronaldo, who took one touch before planting a low right-footed shot past Kahn and into the bottom corner of the net.
It was the master goalscorer’s eighth strike of the competition and sealed victory for a talented side that discovered a winning formula at just the right time. With five world titles now to their name, Brazil had assured their place at the top of the football tree for at least eight more years.
What they said
“There was no score to settle. There was just a weight on my conscience,” Brazil striker Ronaldo, recalling the Final Brazil had lost four years earlier at France 1998.
“Nothing can make me feel better about what I did. I made a mistake, the only one in seven games, and it was severely punished. It feels a whole lot worse when you mess up in a final. I should have held on to the ball. Even so, life goes on,” Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn on Brazil’s opening goal in the Final.
“Brazil deserved it. It was a fantastic World Cup but it was just wasn’t meant to be. Brazil were clearly the better team on the day, and getting to the Final was a triumph in itself for us. We went as far as we could and the only way we’d have won the Final is if Brazil had forgotten to play,” Germany defender Christoph Metzelder.
“The squad stuck together. That’s how we overcame all our obstacles. I have nothing but praise for the boys for their spirit of togetherness, self-sacrifice and commitment,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
What happened next?
The world title was the crowning achievement for a generation of players that had already tasted success at club level in Europe. Combining to sparkling effect, the three Rs helped erase memories of A Seleção’s chastening defeat to the French four years earlier.
Coach Scolari moved on after the finals, leaving his place to Carlos Alberto Parreira, the architect of Brazil’s 1994 world title win. Dispensing with his predecessor’s 3-5-2 formation, Parreira switched to his favoured 4-4-2, while keeping several of Brazil’s Yokohama heroes in the side.
Together they would win the Copa America in 2004 and the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2005 and went into the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ as firm favourites. The generation led by Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Cafu and Roberto Carlos fell to France in the quarter-finals, however, a defeat that led to a changing of the guard.
There were bigger changes afoot for Die Mannschaft. Skibbe and Voller both resigned after the first-round elimination at UEFA EURO 2004. After Ottmar Hitzfeld and Otto Rehhagel both turned down the chance to take over, Jurgen Klinsmann stepped into the breach, with Joachim Low as his assistant.
As hosts of the next World Cup in 2006, the Germans qualified by right, with their only competitive football in the interim coming in the 2005 Confederations Cup, where they lost to the Brazilians once more in the semis and ended up taking third place.
They went into the world finals the following year with a number of question marks hanging over them. But in time-honoured fashion, they answered the doubters, as a new, attack-minded generation of players battled their way to third place, earning the devotion of a proud host nation in the process.