World Cup Fever Hits Asia


When France and Senegal kick off on May 31 in the opening game of the 2002 soccer World Cup Finals, they will be making history. For the first time, the only international sporting event to rival the Olympic Games in popularity will be taking place in Asia. In another first, two countries, rather than one, will play host to the tournament. 


Many people were skeptical about allowing Japan and South Korea to jointly stage soccer’s biggest tournament. After all, historically, the two nations have been enemies. Nevertheless, both of them have successfully hosted the Olympics in the past, and both are eager to take to the world stage once again.


With a huge amount of prestige at stake, the Japanese and Korean authorities have been working hard, and spending big, to make sure World Cup 2002 is a success. If past evidence is anything to go by, fans of the “beautiful game” around the world are not likely to be disappointed.


It is impossible to say when soccer was first played. People have been kicking objects around for fun since time immemorial. The modern version of the game, however, clearly began in 1863, in England. That was when the London Football Association published the first set of soccer rules.  Besides setting the rules, the association gave the game its formal name: association football. The popular term “soccer” is thought to be derived from “association.” 


England may have set the rules, but many people argue that the game’s spiritual home is Brazil. The South American country is home to the world’s most successful and admired national team. Famous for their free-flowing, elegant style, often referred to as “samba soccer,” the Brazilians have carried home the World Cup trophy no fewer than four times. Despite some poor results recently, it would be foolish to dismiss Brazil’s chances in World Cup 2002. 


A famous Scottish coach, when asked if he really thought soccer was a matter of life and death, replied, “no, it’s more important than that.”  He was joking, of course, but there is no denying the passion with which soccer fans all around the world follow their favorite teams. 


For many, losing a big match is a fate worse than death. Brazil’s defeat on home soil in the 1950 World Cup final, for instance, was described as a national tragedy. When the Italian team returned home after losing a game to North Korea in 1966, they were pelted with tomatoes by disappointed fans. 


At World Cup 2002, Asian soccer fans are likely to be every bit as enthusiastic as their European and South American counterparts. Judging from the overwhelming ticket sales in Japan and South Korea, organizers are confident that the tournament will be one of the best-attended World Cups in history.