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   June 30, 2002 | 2230 IST


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Still a beautiful game

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Mike Collett

A superb World Cup that ended on a gloriously romantic night has done much to restore the image of the world game.

After months of in-fighting between FIFA's rulers when football's name was sullied by unsavoury allegations, the top players have proved that ultimately the game is all about them and the fans.

The World Cup The last month has proved that it can still be a Beautiful Game, even if it's not quite as innocent as it once was. Brazil's 2-0 victory over Germany in the final featured two goals by a revived Ronaldo - what more could the organisers have wished.

Part of the beauty of the tournament was that the form-book was thrown out the window in the first round when shock followed shock after France's defeat by Senegal in the opening match.

Although Sunday's final was between two giants of the game -- Brazil and Germany -- their appearance in it was something of a surprise following their pre-tournament form.

Less of a shock than Senegal beating the world champions or the United States beating Portugal for sure, but not widely tipped when it began a month ago.


The success of South Korea and Turkey who both reached the semi-finals for the first time also boosted the competition, especially after they played out a thrilling third place play-off and sportingly congratulated each other and the Korean fans after Turkey's 3-2 victory.

The millions who embraced the tournament in host nations South Korea and Japan, many of them hooking into the sport for the first time ever, proved that the global attraction of the game has not dimmed.

Of course not everyone went home happy - France, Spain, Italy and Portugal will look back on this month and want to weep. But overall, this World Cup has been an uplifting experience for millions around the world.

It was not perfect, but then again it was never going to be.

Referee's were in the spotlight Poor decisions by referees and linesmen blighted the second round and the quarter-finals, with Spain deprived of a rightful place in the last four after having a golden goal winner disallowed against South Korea in the quarter-finals.

Italy were also aggrieved by their exit at the hands of the Koreans in the second round when they had two goals disallowed and Francesco Totti controversially sent off, but they missed clear match-winning chances they could not blame on the referee.

Four years ago in France, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said his priority was to improve the officiating.

While the men in the middle show a lot more common sense than they once did, they have to communicate with their linesmen far more before making controversial decisions.

FIFA must also ditch their policy of having referees and linesmen from all over the world officiating in the World Cup as some imagined nod to the democratisation of the world game.

Apart from refereeing and the never-ending failure of men and women in suits to organise a coherent ticketing policy, there were few off-field dramas.

The hooligans thankfully stayed away and the tournament was played out in a fantastic, often fanatical, atmosphere.


This was always going to be a World Cup with a difference, being the first in Asia and the first to be co-hosted, but no one thought it would provide quite the number of shocks it did.

Senegal had a superb debut Senegal, playing in their first-ever finals, beat world champions France 1-0, allowing every other team to dream.

France were still heavily favoured to do well and fully expected to reach the second round, but after a draw with Uruguay and a defeat to Denmark they were despatched with the worst record of any defending champion in history.

Argentina also never got out of the starting gate. Victory against Nigeria, defeat to England and a draw with Spain consigned them to the departure lounge at Narita airport.

While the first round provided the shocks, the fact some of the fancied countries were already out took the gloss off the second round and the flow of goals became a trickle.

The total of 161 goals is 10 less than last time, and the average of 2.52 goals a game the second lowest ever.


But so much for statistics. New stars like Senegal's Khalilou Fadiga and El-Hadji Diouf, Japan's Junichi Inamoto, Turkey's Ilhan Mansiz and Hasan Sas and South Korean Ahn Jung-Hwan appeared even as the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Paolo Maldini and Fernando Hierro announced their international retirements.

Ronaldo, with his two-goal performance in the final and his eight in all, was undoubtedly the player of the tournament -- although his strike partner Rivaldo ran him close.

German maestro Franz Beckenbauer, among others, said the shocks were mainly the result of too many top players being too tired after playing too many games in Europe's domestic season.

He might have a point.

But at least the Germans go home secure in the knowledge that despite losing the final, as hosts of the 2006 finals they won't face another daunting qualifying campaign.

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