Starting in 2002, the qualifyings for the world cup in the South American group would follow a new system. Instead of dividing the countries in groups, all countries would now play in a round robin system (all against all, one match in each country), after which the top four would be automatically qualified to the cup, and the fifth would face a play-off with a country from Oceania.
Japan / Korea
Just like it had happened in the qualifyings for the World Cup 1994, Brazil had to strugle hard to go to the Cup (and, just like in 1994, Brazil ended up as champion of the tournament). Indeed, only with a victory in the last match against Venezuela, by 3 x 0, in São Luís, Maranhão, did Brazil confirm its presence in the finals of the Cup.
Brazil finished the South American group in third place, behind Argentina and Ecuador; Paraguay was the fourth placed; Uruguay finished fifth, won the play-off against the Australians and also went to the cup.
After the failure in 1998, coach Zagallo was dismissed. The first one to assume the coaching was Wanderley Luxemburgo, the man with most titles in the Brazilian championship (in 2005, Luxemburgo was hired by Real Madrid, from Spain). After a series of bad results, which culminated with the elimination of the Brazilian team from the Olympic Games in Sidney, Luxemburgo was dismissed.
The next one was Leão, the goal keeper of the Brazilian team in the 1974 World Cup; Leão, however, stayed only three matches of the qualifyings (victory over Colombia, loss to Ecuador, tie with Peru) and was also dismissed.
Japan / Korea
In June of 2001, Luís Felipe Scolari, known as Felipão (Big Phil), was announced as the new coach of the Brazilian team. Felipão had just won titles with Palmeiras and Cruzeiro, and was the preferred by the populars.
Coming from the southern State of Rio Grande do Sul, Felipão valued discipline as much as skills. His teams were known not for producing beautiful to the eyes shows; instead, Felipão demanded obedience to his tactics, focused on a strong defense and quick counter attacks.
The Romário versus Felipão affair: after a match with the Brazilian team, Romário asked Felipão permission to take a few days off, claiming he would go through a small eyes surgery; a few days later, Felipão learned that Romário had been playing beach soccer in Ipanema (when, supposedly, he should be recovering from the surgery).
In a controversial decision, which was debated all across the country, Felipão decided not to take Romário to the Cup; there was a nearly fifty-fifty split between the fans pro and against Romário - some said Romário was a star, so he should go to the Cup, while others said that Romário had been dishonest, and he was too old to make a difference anyway (notice that the situation was different in 1998, when a large majority wanted Romário to stay in the France Cup - he ended up being dismissed, for he was injured).
When the groups were drawn, Brazil seemed to have been lucky; Brazil's adversaries would be Turkey, China and Costa Rica. Argentina, which had finished first in the qualifying, would have to face England, Sweden and Nigeria; Argentina didn't go past the first stage in the cup. In the end, it turned out that Turkey finished the tournament in third place, showing that indeed Brazil's group was the strongest of all.
Ato, Kaz and Nik
First match, Brazil beat Turkey by 2 x 1; the second goal came from a wrongly noted penalty (the foul took place far outside the penalty area). The match was important because Felipão could define the structure of the defense: Lúcio and Roque Júnior in the back, Gilberto Silva in the middle, all three players gained Felipão's confidence; the coach, however, was still looking for someone to play in the mid field, protecting the defense.
This match was even more important for another reason: Ronaldo scored his first goal in this Cup, and started to show that the would be a fundamental piece of the Brazilian team. After Ronaldo's breakdown in the 1998 Cup, and a sequence of serious injuries in 2000/2001 (when Ronaldo was playing for the Internazionale of Milan), many people said that Ronaldo should not be included in the roster, and, if he ever played, he would never be the same Ronaldo who once inspired fear to the adversaries. Ronaldo was the best Brazilian player against Turkey, and along the tournament proved to be the most important Brazilian player.
Brazil used his maximum power against China. The team didn't play well, but enough to beat the weak China by 4 x 0. Ronaldo scored the last goal, and kept building self-confidence.
Photo: Brazilian Confederation
Already qualified to the next stage, Felipão used the match against Costa Rica to make experiments. Brazil won by 5 x 2.
Brazil was the favourite against Belgium. However, the Europeans played very well, and the first goal came only at 20' of second half, with Rivaldo; when the match was 0 x 0, Wilmots scored for Belgium, but the referee anotated a controversial foul and invalidated the goal. Later on, Ronaldo scored, and Brazil won by 2 x 0.
The Brazilian team was much more concerned to play the next match, against England. The Englishmen had survived the group of death, beating Argentina and Sweden, and had easily won strong Denmark by 3 x 0. The winner of Brazil x England would play against the winner of Turkey x Senegal, indicating a high possibility of reaching the semifinals. It was a nervous match, and Owen scored first, after a big failure by Lucio.
Then, another Brazilian star shone: Ronaldinho. Still in the first half, he recovered the ball in the Brazilian field and run nearly fifty meters, to serve Rivaldo who tied the match. Then, early in the second half, Ronaldinho was to free kick a seemingly dangerless fault near England's defense side line; instead of trying to serve a Brazilian fellow, as expected, Ronaldinho kicked the ball very high, as if going over the goal; the ball fell abruptly and entered the goal. Many said it was a fluke (which would make no difference at all), but Ronaldinho said that he knew that Seaman, the English goalkeeper, had the bad habit of staying too far from the goal during the matches. Even after Ronaldinho was sent off (for violent play), Brazil kept the control, and won by 2 x 1, which had been the most difficult match till then.
The semifinal was against Turkey, which Brazil had won only because of a referee's mistake. Again, this match was difficult, with the Brazilian winning with a goal by Ronaldo, early in the second half.
For the first time in History, the two countries with best performance in World Cups, Brazil and Germany, would play against each other; moreover, the match would be the final of the tournament.
Despite the mutual respect, Brazilians felt they were favourite to the title. Whereas Brazil would start with Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Denílson, all capable of scoring a goal and deciding the match in a moment, Germany's main star was the goalkeeper Oliver Khan (who was elected by the FIFA Comission as the best player of the tournament). Many people recalled, however, that Brazil was favourite against France in 1998, but ended up loosing by 3 x 0.
The Brazilian victory by 2 x 0, two goals by Ronaldo in the second half, was not a surprise, but the referee's final whistle was a relief. Brazil, which was the only four times world champion, was now an even more distinguised five times world cup champion.
»Brazilians were happy not only with the title, but also, because of the early elimination of Argentina. Argentina had been first in the qualifyings, and was considerede THE favourite to championship; however, they returned home after only three matches. France, champion in 1998, also went home early.
»On the other hand, some countries showed progress. Japan, who was coached by Brazilian ex-player Zico, and has been contracting Brazilian coaches and players for nearly a decade, is showing continuous progress in cups and Olympics. South Korea, the other host country, reached the semi-finals (but only with a big help from the referees; Korea won Italy and Spain only thanks to scandalous mistakes of the referees). The greatest suprise was, possibly, the USA team; against all previsions, the USA team reached the quarter-finals, and only by very little were they beaten by Germany.
»Before raising the trophy to the world, Brazil's captain Cafu exhibited a message hand written on his shirt. The message, in Portuguese, read: "100% Vila Irene". Vila Irene is the name of the poor district in the city of São Paulo were Cafu was born and raised; Cafu maintains a few assistential entities in Vila Irene.
Cafu set a new record in the world cup History: he played three final matches in a row (against Italy in 1994, France in 1998 and Germany in 2002).
»Most Brazilian players were already playing in Europe; of the few who were still in Brazil, some moved after the Cup, like Kaká (hired by Milan), Gilberto Silva (Arsenal, England) and even the coach, Felipão, who took the Portugal national team and led it to the vice-championship of the European Cup in 2004.
»Despite being the champion, the new rules say that Brazil must play the qualifyings for the World Cup 2006. Despite the age, some veterans will be in Germany; Cafu and Ronaldo will go to their fourth Cup.
With eight goals, Ronaldo was the main striker of 2002; combined with the four of 1998, Ronaldo scored twelve goals in cups. He is very likely to set a new record in 2006; the current mark belongs to German Gerd Muller, with 13 goals.
»Émerson had been the luckiest player in 1998; when Romário was dismissed at last minute, Émerson was caught by surprise and called to France. In 2002, the opposite happened: Émerson got injured a few days before going to Korea, and Ricardinho was called to replace him.