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  1. Do you remember where you were in the summer of 2002? I was 12 years old, and I was about to complete my first year in secondary education at school. Growing up with a so-called 'learning disability' in Romford - a small market town in the suburbs of north-east London - was a real challenge at times. I found it quite difficult, if not impossible to make any meaningful friends. Self-esteem did not come easy to me at all. What I did have, though, was an incredible desire to learn about a wide range of subjects. I excelled at mathematics and literacy (which probably explain's why Im such a stickler four grammar), but I was particularly fascinated with two things: computers and football. 2002 was the year of the 17th FIFA World Cup, which was the first edition of international football's quadrennial premier competition to be staged in Asia. This was the first World Cup that I truly immersed myself into, even though most of the matches coincided with school. While France 1998 was my World Cup 'debut', I was very young back then and I was still learning about this wonderful sport. I don't think I even fully realised that a red card was a particularly bad thing to receive until that night when David Beckham petulantly kicked out at Argentina's Diego Simeone, sending England on their way to a typical penalty shoot-out defeat. The 2002 World Cup would be particularly captivating to me, as it was hosted by South Korea and Japan - two exotic oriental countries that were considerably further away from me than my grandparents' home in Hornchurch. While I pored over all the team previews, I also endeavoured to learn more about the two host nations. Prior to the World Cup, I knew very little of South Korea, except that the red-and-blue circle on the national flag bore a rather striking resemblance to the Pepsi logo. I had rather more experience of Japanese culture, predominantly through anime TV series such as 'Pokémon' and 'Digimon'. I loved both those programmes whilst growing up, and those minor obsessions were only just beginning to wane by that golden summer. I've been a football fan for 20 years now, and as far as I am concerned, no World Cup before or since 2002 has delivered more excitement or drama. It began on 31 May, with Papa Bouba Diop and his Senegal team-mates - coached by the late Bruno Metsu - dancing to an incredible victory over holders France. The West Africans would eventually dance all the way to the Quarter Finals, where a Turkish own goal ended their incredible fairytale. As for France, they returned home in disgrace, with more controversial Thierry Henry red cards to their name than goals. Argentina too were dumped out early, thanks in part to yet another match-defining moment from twinkle-toes striker Michael Owen, and a redemptive penalty from Beckham. Despite Kevin Keegan's shock resignation as manager after defeat in their first qualifier against Germany at the old Wembley Stadium, England went further in this World Cup than they had done four years previously. Under the guidance of suave Swede Sven-Göran Eriksson, the Three Lions breezed through Round 2 against a Denmark side who were so poor that even Emile Heskey scored against them. Unfortunately, we then came up against a magnificent Brazil team spearheaded by Ronaldinho, who could probably still bring David Seaman to tears 16 years after that free-kick. Granted, the buck-toothed magician was sent off just minutes later for nobbling Danny Mills, but I don't think he dwells on that in his sleep. Did Mills ever win the Champions League with Barcelona, or did he instead end up as one of the worst pundits on radio? I rest my case. Our near-neighbours from the Republic of Ireland also had a tournament to remember. Though captain Roy Keane decided that he'd rather spend his days walking his dog Triggs than working for professional Yorkshireman Mick McCarthy, Robbie Keane's last-minute penalty took the Irish to extra-time in their Round 2 match with Spain. It was just a shame that Robbie's compatriots weren't quite so prolific from 12 yards out. Soccer fans across the Atlantic discovered that the pinnacle of the beautiful game was not, as 'The Simpsons' might have led them to believe, a riot-inducing pass-fest between Portugal and Mexico. The United States of America - previously regarded by many foreigners as the international game's biggest laughing stocks - swept both those nations aside before running into the Michael Ballack-shaped wall that was Germany. While Japan petered out against Turkey, co-hosts South Korea enjoyed an incredible run of good fortune, particularly when it came to refereeing decisions. They reached the Quarters thanks to a golden goal from Ahn Jung-Hwan, though not before Italy had one disallowed themselves. Ahn would later be sacked by his Serie A club Perugia, because Italian football executives are renowned for being patient and forgiving. More refereeing blunders would see South Korea eliminate Spain in the last eight, though nobody - not even the co-hosts - could have possibly denied Germany victory in the Semi Finals. The Mannschaft had progressed through the knockout rounds with surgical precision, ultimately booking a showdown with Brazil in Yokohama on 30 June. There was to be no consolation bronze medal for the Koreans, who lost a five-goal thriller against fellow dark horses Turkey, having conceded to Hakan Sükür after just 11 seconds. Four years after Croatia's Davor Suker had lit up France 98, his near-namesake was also making headlines. By the end of the tournament, though, there was only one name on everybody's lips: Ronaldo. The 25-year-old Brazilian striker dubbed 'O Fenômeno' may have been dogged by illness in his last World Cup Final appearance, but his second saw him rip Germany apart with a couple of second-half goals. Germany's usually reliable goalkeeper Oliver Kahn - voted the best player of the entire tournament - had reserved his worst performance of the tournament for the most vital game. Led by right-back and captain Cafú, Brazil lifted the World Cup for a record-breaking fifth time. They had demonstrated once again that while the English had invented modern football, only the boys from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo had truly mastered it. So, that was what happened in one of the greatest World Cup tournaments of all-time... but could it have been even better? What if we could go back in time to the summer of 2000, and rewrite two years of footballing history? What if Keegan never had his toilet-based breakdown at Wembley in October, and stayed on for a full World Cup qualifying campaign? Would King Kev have guided England to the tournament itself, and would he have fared any better than Sven? Would Ronaldo's old injury woes flare up again just when Brazil needed him most? Could Germany take advantage and go a step further than they did in reality? Would South Korea and Japan have enjoyed strong tournaments off their own bats instead of having to rely on questionable officiating? What about France and Argentina; could they have learned from past mistakes and returned to their former glories? Would Italy have celebrated a fourth World Cup triumph, four years ahead of schedule? Would the perennial bridesmaids from the Netherlands have even qualified this time, let alone won? And would Scotland have... no, of course they wouldn't! That's where the power of my other big obsession - computers - comes into play. I have been into computer games and football for as long as I can remember, and Championship Manager (or Football Manager, as it's now known) is the perfect fusion of those two passions. You will be hard-pressed to find another PC gaming franchise that simulates the world of football more realistically than this (which could explain why nobody writes fan-fiction about FIFA Manager or Ultimate Soccer Manager anymore). I will be using Championship Manager: Season 00/01 - in my opinion, the best Championship Manager game of the CM3 era - to simulate the entire 2002 World Cup, from the first continental qualifiers to the end of the Final itself. Dreams will be revived or broken, new heroes and villains will be made, new underdogs may rise forward... heck, we might even get England vs Finland in the Final! (That really did happen to me in a previous save game, honest!) So, would you care to join me on this journey back through time?
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