As the deadline for deciding who would host the 2002 World Cup approached, FIFA boss Joao Havelange was approaching his 80th birthday and had been head of FIFA for over 20 years. Many thought he was getting past his sell-by date. He was a man who oozed power and in truth he had done a lot for the game. But while he may have been respected, the Brazilian wasn’t universally liked.

His archenemy was Swede Lennart Johansson, the head of the powerful European federation (UEFA) who was tired of seeing Europe make concessions to other federations (especially South America) and disliked Havelange running FIFA like his personal fiefdom (perhaps because he wanted to do it).

As Havelange — a former top swimmer who once had a Japanese coach — was firmly behind Japan’s bid to host the 2002 World Cup, so it was inevitable that Johansson would find a way to upset the president’s apple cart, which meant cosying up to the Korean side. It was to be a game of politics and Havelange had warned the Japanese to be careful of South Korean soccer chief Dr. Chung Mong Joon and to play the political game carefully.

But the Japanese didn’t understand the rules of the game. They had been outmaneuvered by Chung in the race to win an important FIFA vice presidency post (the JFA was described as “amateurish” in its efforts) and had scored an own goal by refusing a visa for Diego Maradona to appear in the Kirin Cup exhibition tournament.

Meanwhile, the FIFA inspection committee that passed through South Korea and Japan in October 1995 had found it difficult to distinguish between the two countries in many ways.

“They didn’t recommend cohosting but they said that both countries were capable of doing it and that they couldn’t choose — they wouldn’t choose — between the two countries,” former United States Soccer Federation president and 2002 World Cup Organizing Committee member Alan Rothenberg explained.

However, as the vote neared in the early months of 1996, doubts had been raised about South Korea’s infrastructure and ability to stage the World Cup on its own.

“We believed that with the World Cup expanding with 32 nations we were much stronger economically,” JFA vice president Kunishige Kamamoto said. “Although the Koreans were successful with the Olympics, the World Cup is different as it’s held all over the country, and we thought that South Korea might struggle to hold the World Cup on its own.”

UEFA, led by the wily old Johansson, looked at possible options. There weren’t many: Japan or cohosting. And Japan was not an option.

So cohosting it had to be. By April 1996, UEFA, prompted by the Asian Football Confederation, had decided that it would support cohosting.

The AFC was in a state of exasperation over the relentless bid campaigns and it also came to the realization that if one country were to win out over the other, it would hurt, rather than help, the cause of Asian soccer.

Remember, these two countries were the leading nations in East Asia, they were the two richest nations in the region and the AFC needed both of them on board to help sustain the game in the region. Losing the bid would be a devastating loss of face to either country and the loss of that country’s development and enthusiasm for soccer would constitute a serious blow to the game in Asia.

“We will suffer a tremendous humiliation for a long time to come,” South Korean bid committee chairman Koo Pyong Hwoi stated unequivocably at the time.

Quickly, the idea formed that cohosting was an honorable way out for both countries and for the AFC it was a win-win situation.

Knowing that the Japanese, with Havelange’s prestige riding on their bid, would put up the most resistance to the idea of cohosting, the AFC — aided by Johansson — targeted South Korea.

While Chung still held out hope that South Korea could be awarded the entire World Cup, he realized that half a World Cup was a lot better than none.

“The official line from Korea was that Korea was still intent on hosting the World Cup alone,” according to Bryan Matthew, a close consultant to the Korean bid committee. “But the Koreans indicated that if the ‘collective wisdom’ of football’s powers decided that cohosting was the best way out, then they would go along with it.”

At a party for senior FIFA executives in Trinidad early in 1996, Chung did the rounds, enjoying the absence of the Japanese, who had no representation in the upper reaches of FIFA. By this time, the Koreans had accepted the notion of cohosting. South Korean Prime Minister Lee Soo Sung declared at the beginning of May 1996 that cohosting would be acceptable to Korea “if that is the wish of most of the member nations of FIFA.”

The Japanese still hadn’t even considered it.

Johansson used his influence to persuade other members of the executive committee that this way out would be the best way out for soccer (while bearing in mind that Havelange and Sepp Blatter would balk at such a move and be humiliated by such a decision. According to one insider, Johansson had two motivations for backing cohosting: one was to “shaft Havelange” and the other was to set a precedent for cohosting, realizing that such a move would open up the World Cup to many of the smaller countries in Europe.).

With the eight European votes at his disposal, plus Chung’s own vote as an executive committee member, Johansson didn’t need much help to swing things his way.

In April 1996, UEFA had met and decided to back cohosting. That same month, UEFA representative Gerhard Aigner — currently UEFA’s general secretary — was sent to Cairo to speak to the African general secretaries. Soon after, the African members of the executive committee who had previously backed Japan — until this point, Africa had been Japan’s big success story in trying to get the necessary votes — went along with UEFA’s idea of backing cohosting. As the vote neared, the final estimation was that Johansson controlled around three-quarters of the 21 votes on the committee.

“By the time the date for the decision had arrived, practically all of the executive committee held the view that cohosting was the best of the alternative choices,” FIFA vice president David Will explained.

Both the Japanese and Havelange were still sticking to their guns, although they weren’t left with much more than blanks to fire.

On May 30, Blatter phoned Shunichiro Okano, the head of Japan’s bid committee (and now the president of the Japan Football Association), asking if the Japanese side would consider cohosting. The Japanese delegation sought advice from former prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa, who suggested they had little or no choice. It was half a World Cup or no World Cup.

Finally, the Japanese realized they had been backed into a corner and sent a bitter reply to Blatter:

“We would consider the possibility of joint hosting IF this is the wish of FIFA.”

According to press reports, it was IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch who finally persuaded Havelange to back down. The Brazilian bulldog had finally been tamed.

The game was up — although the fighting was to continue.

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