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The 17th FIFA World Cup: 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan

The XVII World Football Cup begins in Seoul on 31 May 2002. It is exceptional at least because of three reasons - it is the first championship on the Asian continent the first organised by two countries - Korea and Japan and the first in the XXI-st century. It is also a peak championship as for the number of participants and matches played in the elimination. 193 countries out of 203 associated in the Federation Internationale de Football Association - FIFA applied to the competition. In the elimination, taking place from March 2000 to November 2001, all over the world, from Europe through America, to the Pacific Islands, 777 matches were played. They selected 29 finalists. Three teams had participation guaranteed without elimination -Korea and Japan being hosts and France - the 1998 champions. On 1 December of the past year, in the Korean city of Busan, there were drawn lots, which resulted in the following division into groups:
A: France Senegal, Uruguay, Denmark
B: Paraguay Republic of South Africa, Spain, Slovenia
C: Brazil, Turkey, China, Costa Rica,
D: Poland, South Korea, USA Portugal
E: Ireland, Cameroon, Germany, Saudi Arabia
F: England, Sweden, Argentine, Nigeria
G: Croatia, Mexico, Italy Ecuador
H: Japan, Belgium Russia, Tunisia

The matches in groups A-D are played in ten stadiums in South Korea while those in groups E-H in ten stadiums in Japan. The stadium of Yokohama hosts the final match of 30 June, 2002.

The champion title is defended by France which in 1998, on the stadium of Saint Denis, near Paris, beat Brazil in a final match with a 3:0 result. Two years later the French became European champions confirming the status of the best representation of the end of the XXth century.

Both countries occupy a special place in the history of football. Although it originated in England, in the fifties of the last century, it was France that gave it organisational frames, valid till the present times. It was their initiative to found in Paris, in 1904 the Federation Internationale de Football Association -FIFA. It was Jules Rimet, its most famous president of all, who organised the first international football championship. His national - Henri Delaunay created European championship. A journalist of the French sport magazine "L'Equipe", Gabriel Hanot, has invented matches between European clubs offering us entertainment in the form of "Wednesdays of football" and from ten years on - Champions' League as well. France only lacked success on the football field. When finally they succeeded, they achieved at once two triumphs within two years - first positions in the world and in Europe.

Brazil is the only country which representation participated in all sixteen championship finals. Moreover, no one has won as many titles as them. The Brazilians, because of their yellow shirts, named by their fans "canarinhos", won four times: in years 1958, 1962, 1970 and 1994. With the first three victories the name of the best football player of all times is connected - Pele. He is the only one triple-time world champion. When in 1958, he was enjoying his first success, he was not even 18 year's old held up by his equally excited older colleagues.

Twelve years later, in Mexico, he was already the most famous football player in the world, thinking seriously about winding up his career. Since then along with an emblem on yellow shirts of the Brazilians, three stars have occurred reminding us about the achievement that was made by no one else. In 1994, after a success on the fields of the USA, the fourth star was added. Now the national teams of Italy and Germany have three of them. Uruguay and Argentina won world championship twice, England and France - once.

Only two people won the World Cup as football players and coaches - Brazilian Mario Zagalo and German Franz Beckenbauer. Among other outstanding personalities of the past final tournaments who received world recognition were: Uruguayans - Jose Leandro Andrade (1930), Juan Alberto Schiaffino (1950), Brazilians - Didi, Garrincha (1958-62), Gerson, Tostao, Rivelino, Jairzinho (1970), Romario and Bebeto (1994), Ronaldo (1998), Germans - Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Gerd Mueller (1974), English - Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton (1966), Argentinians - Mario Kempes, Daniel Passarella (1978), Diego Maradona (1986), Italians - Giuseppe Meazza (1934-38), Silvio Piola (1938), Paolo Rossi (1982).

The French have dominated for four years. Fabien Barthez, who defended their goal, used to be kissed ritually on his baldhead by the captain of the team - Laurent Blanc every time before starting a match. It was meant to bring luck to the French team (and it did). Its defence was difficult to break through. As half-backs they had the best football player in the world -Zinadine Zidane. There was not an action without his participation. The adversaries could not restrain him. Neither did those to whom Zidane passed balls to. The most efficacious of them - Thiery Henry was only 21 year's old. Most football players from that tournament will represent France also this time - in Asia and France will definitely be one of the favourites.

While analysing the teams, in most cases the specialists spot France and Argentine as a winner. As usual the Italians, English and Germans will be dangerous, they are however experiencing a football crisis in their countries. Better and better are the representations of African countries - Nigeria and Cameroon. As usual there will emerge someone who was not taken by the specialists into serious consideration before. Such teams often decide about the attractiveness of the championship. Whether it might be Poland? Our team's trainer - Jerzy Engel thinks it is possible.

Poland has participated in five finals so far. In 1938 they dropped out after one dramatic match with Brazil during which 11 goals were scored. We lost after a play-off 5:6 and Ernest Wilimowski scored four goals against the Brazilians. The Poles created a real sensation in 1974 during the championship in West Germany. We came third ceding only to the Germans and Dutch. Kazimierz Gorski was the trainer. Kazimierz Deyna was acclaimed the third football player in the world - after German Franz Beckenbauer and Dutch Johan Cruyff. Grzegorz Lato won the title of the king of scorers while Robert Gadocha the best left wing in the world. Four years later in Argentine, the Poles came between 5th and 8th in the championships. During the World Cup '82 in Spain "the white-red" repeated their success from the German fields - came third and Zbigniew Boniek heard similar compliments to those of Deyna eight years before. The last participation in the finals, in 1986, in Mexico, did not result in any success for the Polish team. Out of four matches only they had success with Portugal. We are meeting the representation of this country also in Korea. Our two other opponents are the United States and the hosting team - South Korea.

Everyone plays for one trophy. Its name is the World Cup, it is 35 cm in height and weighs about 5 kilos, it was produced in a jewellery workshop in Milan in gold and malachite. It has been handed over to the captain of a victorious eleven-sided team since 1974. It substituted another trophy, formally named Jules Rimet Trophy and commonly Golden Nike. Won by the Brazilians in 1970, whose property became, it was stolen from the seat of a football federation in Rio de Janeiro and probably melted down by thieves. Nowadays the World Cup, which is handed over, can not become the property of anyone.

Stefan Szczeplek
"Rzeczpospolita" newspaper