World Cup Memories: 2002, the year of Brazil's fifth star

Fabio Schapiro

i24NEWS Associate Producer | @FabioSchapiro

9 min read
Brazil's Ronaldo celebrates scoring against Germany during the World Cup soccer final at the Yokohama stadium in Yokohama, Japan.
AP Photo/Dusan Vranic, FileBrazil's Ronaldo celebrates scoring against Germany during the World Cup soccer final at the Yokohama stadium in Yokohama, Japan.

2002 and 2022 seem to present many similarities: World crises, Lula, and a Brazil win – I hope

I will never forget the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. It wasn’t just a world cup, it was an experience, a song, and a feeling of national unity I have never seen before. 

You may be thinking: every world cup brings people together. That may be, but somehow 2002 was different. But to fully understand it, we may need to go back a few years...

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In 1994, Brazil's Finance Minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced the "Real Plan," pegging the Brazilian currency to the U.S. dollar, which created a period of rapid growth and allowed Brazilian teams to pay salaries like the ones offered in Europe. 

We Brazilians say that there are three sacred subjects: religion, politics, and soccer; and it is only natural that they are intertwined. A World Cup title was needed for Cardoso to have a successful government. And he almost got it 4 years earlier.

In 1998, Brazil was defending  their world champion title - but French star - Zinedine Zidane had other plans for the trophy lifting. Yet, the most popular name in the final was Brazilian striker Ronaldo. 

AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle
AP Photo/Thomas KienzleBrazilian team captain Cafu holds aloft the World Cup at the end of the 2002 World Cup final soccer match between Brazil and Germany on June 30, 2002.

The then-best player in the world had a seizure hours before the game, but insisted on playing anyways. Shaken, Ronaldo became a mere spectator to the French massacre. But his problems were just about to begin.

When the regular season returned, Ronaldo started to suffer from repeated injuries, the fruits of body stress borne by someone who had played professionally since the age of 16. The situation got worse in 2000 when he tore the tendons and ligaments in his knee, a potentially career-ending injury.

As Ronaldo was recovering, so was Brazil’s national team. After the failure at the Sydney Olympics, coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo was sacked, opening the position for the Libertadores finalist Luis Felipe Scolari, also known as Felipão. It was the beginning of the Scolari Family Era.

AP Photo/Carlo Fumagalli
AP Photo/Carlo FumagalliBrazilian fans celebrate at the World Cup in Yokohama, Japan, on June 30, 2002.

Felipão chose his team not based on big names but on how well players were performing. Names like Kléberson, Ronaldinho, and Marcos received the chance to play on the main team, while cup winner Romario was barred. 

The new coach mixed experienced veterans with young rising talents to create a fast and dynamic squad that played as a Brazilian team should. Out of the 23 players, 18 played in Brazil or had recently transferred to Europe. No other Brazilian national team was as Brazilian since then.

But back to 2002. 

After a successful decade in the 90s, Brazil was feeling the impact of the economic crisis of the Far East. The situation wasn’t as favorable as a few years before, but the optimism in the streets was viral. 

Months before the cup, singer Ivete Sangalo, the top rating Brazilian singer at the time, released her album "Festa" ("party") - which became the song of the summer - as well as that year’s Carnaval and the anthem of Brazil’s national team.

“A Party will happen! The people of the ghetto said to make it known.” Those words echoed the country and prophesized what was to come. 

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I was just a child, but the memory of that championship always brings me comfort. The yellow and green painted streets and the happiness on people’s faces set the mood. Even my school classes focused on teaching about South Korea, Japan, and the team mascots: Ato, Kaz, and Nik. No one could escape it.

And as the games started, the party just got bigger. Brazil ended its group with all wins and 11 goals scored, including a half-bicycle kick goal by Edmílson against Costa Rica. 

Even the hardship against Belgium wasn’t enough to stop the team. David Seaman is still trying to find Ronaldinho’s kicked ball against England in the quarter-finals. But not everyone celebrated that game as much as the crowds.

Ronaldo, against all odds, managed not only to recover from his injury and return to play at a high level, but also scored five goals and led the team throughout the tournament. It all seemed fine, until that England game. Ronaldo suffered an injury that put his participation at risk. 

After the game, while doing a routine haircut, Ronaldo decided to draw a half-moon in his hair to have fun with his teammates. What he didn’t expect was that by keeping it, he would shift the media’s attention from his injury to his hair, lowering the pressure on his performance. With new hair and a lot of pain, Ronaldo scored a goal with the tip of his foot and qualified Brazil for the final against Germany.

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The final was a spectacle of its own. The top scorer of the cup, Ronaldo, would be facing the best goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, who had only let one goal passed him during the whole competition.

After a tense first half, it was anyone’s game. Both teams only needed a chance to score. Following a fantastic ball recovery, Ronaldo passed to Rivaldo, who made an attempt at goal. Kahn couldn’t get hold of the ball and allowed the worst to happen: he left it at the feet of Ronaldo, who just needed to tap it in. 

1-0 Brazil.

Germany went all-in around 10 minutes later, mistakenly. With an amazing pass from Brazilian midfielder Jose Kleberson and a mistake from German defender Thomas Linke, Ronaldo scored his second goal and sealed Brazil’s fifth World Cup title.

AP Photo/Murad Sezer, file
AP Photo/Murad Sezer, fileBrazil's Ronaldo (9) beats Germany's goalie Oliver Kahn to score during the second half of the 2002 World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan.

Once Referee Pierluigi Collina ended the game, people all around me started to hug and celebrate in ecstasy. Indeed, there was going to be a party! I remember getting a permanent marker with my cousins to draw the missing new star representing the title on our shirts, and then from there going straight to the nearby pitch to redo the scenes of the game ourselves.

In Brasilia, an immense crowd came to celebrate with the players, while Ivete Sangalo was singing the anthem of the team. Corinthians player Vampeta, drunk in celebration, got down from the presidential palace doing back flips. President Cardoso finally had a World Cup title. Yet, it was not enough for his party, as elections were closing in, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ended up being elected.

2002 and 2022 seem to present many similarities. The world was recovering from a crisis, Lula was elected President, and Brazil will win the World Cup. 

Or at least I hope so. 

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