The World Cup. It’s a tournament that captivates the world with many fantastic, tumultuous and hilarious moments over the past 84 years. It’s an event that has had Australians at all hours of the day and night captivated, enthralled and in complete despair be it sitting on the couch, in a bar or in the stadiums themselves despite the fact Australia spent many years exiled from the big dance through a cacophony of bad luck, FIFA ineptitude and their own ignorance or stupidity.
It’s maybe a bit unfair then to start with a memorable moment featuring the scourge of the modern game. The dive.
Brazil had crawled in the 2002 World Cup Finals which would be played in Japan and South Korea; a first for Asia. Felipe ‘Big Phil’ Scolari had come in to avoid what could’ve been the very realistic horror of Brazil not qualifying with a handful of games to go by choosing the best players who would bunker down and grind out results rather than entertain which was a very un-Brazil way. It was unpopular with purists but it worked.
This Brazil side would be based around the attacking prowess of the ‘Three Rs’. Ronaldo was back to some level of decent fitness after a hellish four years of injury since the 1998 Final debacle. Rivaldo was already an established superstar who pulled the strings in the ‘10’ role and next to him was Ronaldinho who was the new strutting peacock of his up and coming generation with the goofy smile and cocky exuberance of youth. They were still very much fancied for this tournament despite their initial struggles to qualify.
Brazil’s first opponents in the tournament would be Turkey who were in the World Cup for the first time since 1954 with a team very well drilled and their best for generations. The match kicked off in the Korean industrial city of Suwon with both teams trading blows as the Turks rushed and harried their more desirable opponents.
With Ronaldo seemingly back to his best covering the ground of someone with two fully functioning knees Brazil had sustained periods of pressure but Turkey struck first against the run of play. Deep in injury time in the first half Hasan Sas (who was rocking a look that was part King and I and part Travis Bickle) snuck in to the far post to rocket home an innocuous cross from close range that had deceived the Brazilian defence and give Turkey a shock 1-0 lead at the break.
Whatever Big Phil said to Brazil at half time worked as the old proverb of ‘Don’t score against Brazil as it will just make them angry’ came in to full effect. It was only five minutes in to the second half when Ronaldo finished brilliantly from a Rivaldo cross that had come out of nowhere to tie it up. Ronaldo stretching for the ball in an athletic way not seen since his PSV Eindhoven days.
As the half went on Brazil turned up the Joga Bonito flair that had been all but absent from any Brazil games coached by Scolari so far but with the flair came true grit. Turkey almost scored from a free kick but Brazil always threatened even with Ronaldo rested with 20 minutes to go and replaced by Luizanho. It was that replacement that turned the game for Brazil when he was tackled clearly out of the penalty area. The Korean Ref, perhaps with a touch of nerves in front of his home crowd or a nice envelope in his pocket, gave a penalty to Brazil and a red card to the Turkish defender Alpay for a second bookable offence. To a chorus of boos Rivaldo dispatched the ‘penalty’ with three minutes to go and it would seem Brazil would escape with a win to kick off their campaign.
As time ticked on the Turks pushed Brazil even with a man down. With a minute to go Brazil broke down to the other end of the pitch and forced a corner. Rivaldo wasted time not rushing to receive the ball to take the corner. With a loose ball near him and the Brazilians procrastinating Hakan Unsal kicked the ball at Rivaldo from some five yards away in an act of sheer frustration. The ball cannoned in to Rivaldo’s right leg but in an act of blatant stimulation and embarrassingly poor sportsmanship grabbed his head like he’d been shot by a sniper before collapsing to the ground.
To another chorus of boos Rivaldo tried to ride his luck and hope that the 642 or so cameras covering the event didn’t capture the fact that the ball hadn’t hit his face as remained prostate on the ground. The referee sent Unsal off for the dummy spit and finally Rivaldo got up to wind down the clock. Brazil won 2-1 but the win was marred by a quite obvious and deliberate act of simulation from the Brazilian star.
In the aftermath the world turned on Rivaldo as those who often criticised the sport for such acts of unsportsmanlike behaviour had ammunition to stick the boot in again; especially here in Australia. FIFA took action because of the incident happening on the biggest stage there is and fined Rivaldo around 12,000 Swiss Francs or $13,500 Australian. The amount was chicken feed when it involved one of the biggest players in the world at the time. Rivaldo had the gall to come out and say he was being victimised too by ‘being assaulted and also fined.’ Unsal appealed to have his card rescinded for the incident but the suspension stood and he would miss Turkey’s next match against South Korea.
Not a glorious moment for Brazil, one of their stars or the World Cup in general but a memorable moment none the less.