World Cup 2002: Germany 1, USA 0: The Ten Year Reunion

Save by Kahn!

The match is still held up as the modern day heights scaled of the USMNT soccer program.

The World Cup? On location in Ulsan, Korea… Friday, June 21, 2002.

The match? USA vs. Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals. Tomorrow the 10-year anniversary will be used as a grand US Soccer timeline marker.

The Best XI…

The US had swashbuckled it’s way through the group stages and laid waste to CONCACAF heavyweight Mexico to arrive at a match-up with the heavily favored Die Mannschaft

The favored German machine vs. the gritty Yanks didn’t disappoint.

The US controlled the tempo and pressed in this one, keeping up the intensity for nearly 70 minutes of the match while the last 20 or so went playground. The Germans appeared incredulous at the pressure from the States, but did not break–thanks partly to Kahn–and some non-pinpoint finishing from Landon Donovan who was still blow-drying his hair at the time.

Sanneh, verve-vacious in attack….

The lone tally came in the 40th minute  as Christian Ziege bent in a set piece and now-ESPN analyst Michael Ballack directed it home at the expense of Tony Sanneh. It was an anomalistic moment for Sanneh who was clearly the Man of the Match.

Sanneh played tremendous defense save that play, finishing with a double-digit count of dribbling-and-attacking forays, and directing a header wide of the west post in the US’s last true threatening moment.

However, it was neither Ballack’s or Sanneh’s play in the box that is the singular moment to remember. It was the 50th minute that provided one.

A gorgeous cross by Landon Donovan arrived at feet of Gregg Berhalter who directed it just inside the left post and past a diving Kahn.

Frings handling the situation.

GOA…no goal! German midfielder Torsten Frings–on location today at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston for the Reds vs. the Dynamo–was guarding his post and the ball struck his hand beyond the line and caromed out….all of this out of view of the refs and linesman.

The US would protest, but it would go unheard. (Apologies England and Ukraine–if any nation has the first rights to the gripe on goal line technology it’s the 50 States.)

Claudio Reyna played a terrific game in this one as well, showing some defensive feistiness and nearly dropping a Stankovic of a volley from the half-line after Kahn had come well beyond the box to knock away what looked to be a dangerous breakaway chance.

The US would fall 1-0, but the game signaled new respect for Americans. It signaled the coming out party of Donovan. Though not his best game that tournament, Brad Friedel would go on to have the best season ever for an American at Blackburn a little over a year later.

John O’Brien’s lore was christened in this tournament as well as Brian McBride showing how hold-up play is done.

What else do you remember?

Where were you for the match?

This from Chad of Upper90 soccer in Brooklyn, NY: 

My parents were visiting me in Berlin, Germany at the time. We watched the game in a public viewing area. The build-up to the Iraq War was getting intense and Chancellor Schroeder had just come out strongly against the war: let’s just say Americans weren’t the most popular people in Europe at the time. We watched the game in neutral colors.

The handball happened. My Dad, who may have been watching the first soccer game of his life (outside of youth leagues), cried out BULLSH*T!

I looked at him incredulously – the last thing we needed was to create a scene as the Americans. He stewed and simmered. We all did. Man… where would American soccer be if we had gotten through?

An overachieving South Korea was all that stood between us and the Finale.

31 responses to this post.

  1. Was in Denver, living in the spare room of my Sister/Brother in laws house and getting up at all hours to watch the tournament. Having quit my job around that time, I watched and obsessed over the tournament at the wee hours in the morning.

    I still hate frings with the passion of a thousand blazing suns.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/20 at 1:36 PM

      John — too funny — always good one.

      I amazingly watched the game at a bar here in SF.

      It was a different feeling than let’s say Algeria. The US was just happy to be there and despite the handball and the loss, there was certainly an air in the bar (filled with all different nationalities) that the States were the better team and also had just proven something even in losing. Less plucky and more gritty.

      The ironic thing about the Frings handball is that it creates this illusion around the “What If” … A handball there would’ve/should’ve been a red card so the States would have been up a man. South Korea waiting. Lot of moxie in that South Korea team, but definitely beatable.



      • To a certain extent, the hand ball has been almost re-written as this “if this had been called we would have won” moment.

        However, as you said… the USA potentially would have been tied 1-1 and up one man with Frings out of the defense


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/20 at 1:44 PM

          Yup, that’s the narrative.


        • As well, a huge difference in (at least my) reaction to 2006 flame out in which I wanted to punch a hole in the wall in anger. 2002 was about a plucky underdog taking the game to the German soccer machine. 2006 was about not living up to expectations and me wanting to punch a hole in the wall.


    • Posted by Jeff on 2013/08/14 at 9:26 AM

      Love it!!


  2. Posted by sfshwebb on 2012/06/20 at 1:53 PM

    Actually the original team to lay claim to griping about goal line technology would be Germany or in this case West Germany. Geoff Hurst third goal was judged to go over the line for a goal when in fact it didn’t and this happened in the final!


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/06/20 at 3:47 PM

      You beat me to it!


    • Hurst did score that fourth goal near the very end of overtime to complete his perfect hat trick (one for each foot and a header) .

      I always felt that should have taken the edge off of that particular controversy. Maybe not for Tilkowski.


  3. Posted by SamT on 2012/06/20 at 2:49 PM

    One thing I had not noticed until just now on the video is how Frings’s teammate on the opposite post sort of mimic’s the same forearm motion as he watches.

    You have to admit. It was a very well-executed hand ball from Frings.

    Overall, a great day for the US Men.


  4. Off topic : Now that Osvaldo Alonso has US citizenship, do you think that he would be able to do Edu’s job any better (assuming his FIFA nationality change is approved and processed in a timely manner)?

    I can’t help but think that he’s an upgrade to Edu, but I’m unsure of whether he’ll be approved.


    • Posted by Ufficio on 2012/06/20 at 5:55 PM

      He’s not eligible for the US. He was cap-tied to Cuba in the 2007 Gold Cup. FIFA regulations are unambiguous on this.


      • I thought he could apply for the change in nationalities due to Cuba basically refusing to recognize him as Cuban. Either way, question still applies theoretically as he wouldn’t be eligible for a while anyway.


        • Posted by Jared on 2012/06/20 at 6:39 PM

          There is precedent from FIFA that he might be able to switch to the USA due to being banned from Cuba. From what I’ve read from different sources it comes down to FIFA’s ruling one way or the other. It all depends on if his defecting and subsequent banning from Cuba counts as “permanently losing the nationality of the country without his consent or against his will”. I’d say that is pretty ambiguous considering that he defected but by defecting does he give up Cuban citizenship? It might as well be a coin flip at that point.

          I’d love to see him get the opportunity to play for the US. I haven’t seen a lot of him but from what I have as well as his stats I think he would be a good addition.


          • Posted by schmutzdeck on 2012/06/20 at 7:43 PM

            Defecting means you reject everything about your country so I can’t how Cuba would not pull his citizenship permanently.

            And it was his choice to defect so I don’t see how you can say losing his citizenship was “without his consent or against his will”.

            What precedent exactly are you talking about?

            I think he played in the Gold Cup so I see no way he gets an exemption. But I’d be perfectly happy to be wrong.

            Has anyone asked him if he wants to play for the US?


            • He said he would be happy to play for the US, but now that I think about it wouldn’t he have needed to have had US Citizenship at the time of being cap-tied? Why are these rules so murky?

            • Kevin,

              Defectors from Cuba who want to play for the USMNT aren’t exactly an everyday occurrence.

          • Posted by Jared on 2012/06/21 at 6:01 AM

            He wouldn’t have needed US citizenship at the time of being cap tied if it’s ruled that he is banned without his consent by Cuba.

            Schmutzdeck, it’s FIFA statute 18.2. It deals specifically with players who have been stripped of their nationality. Puskas was allowed to play for Spain after being exiled from Hungary after refusing to return to the country after the 1956 revolt is the big example that I know about and while not officially a defection it’s pretty close. The argument for Alonso would be that he did not reject Cuban citizenship (just the restrictive aspects of being unable to play/live elsewhere) that it was stripped of him by his decision to defect. It really wouldn’t be all that different than Puskas

            Kevin S, that rule is actually not that murky in terms of the cap tying aspect just the determination of whether defecting is the act of giving up citizenship or if it was Cuba taking it away.

            Here is the exact rule from the FIFA statutes:

            2. If a Player who has been fielded by his Association in an international
            match in accordance with art. 15 par. 2 permanently loses the nationality
            of that country without his consent or against his will due to a decision
            by a government authority, he may request permission to play for another
            Association whose nationality he already has or has acquired.


            • Posted by KickinNames... on 2012/06/21 at 7:09 AM

              Isn’t this where some wizened old owl of a commenter reminds us that FIFA has LAWS not RULES…whatever the H that actually means)))…
              you guys rock…

            • Posted by Ufficio on 2012/06/21 at 7:18 AM

              I guess there’s more wiggle room than I thought. Does Cuba actually strip the citizenship of defectors in general? Of Alonso in particular? I can’t define a definitive answer on the interwebs.

            • Posted by schmutzdeck on 2012/06/21 at 6:28 PM


              I prefer to think of them as more like guidelines.

              Well, Alonso just needs a good arbitrator and a fair judge. It should be interesting

            • Posted by Jared on 2012/06/22 at 6:34 AM

              Don’t forget the obligatory bag of cash when bringing anything to FIFA for a decision.

            • Posted by Ufficio on 2012/06/23 at 9:00 AM

              Just read the article on his situation, which said he retains Cuban citizenship. So there’s approximately a 0% chance of him being eligible for a switch.

            • Posted by dth on 2012/06/23 at 9:50 AM

              Yeah, but Cuba won’t let him play for them. So I’d say .1% chance or so.

              Anyway, I think there’s a decent chance he’s better than Edu at the #6 spot, so I’d be very excited if he were to gain eligibility.

  5. Posted by Crow on 2012/06/20 at 3:31 PM

    I was 16 working at Arby’s- this was the summer that I really caught the soccer bug- there was a TV in the dining area and the whole 2nd half especially we were practically ignoring customers who would come in; there was literal yelling and screaming after the infamous hand ball. When Sanneh almost scored at the end (I thought it went in) I yelled LOL I’m glad we had a cool crew manager that day- they didn’t care about the soccer but they didn’t care most of us were watching it


  6. […] Ten years ago today, Torsten Frings’s hand did as much as the rest of the German team to deny the US of a semifinal appearance in the 2002 World Cup. You can be sure that the Shin Guardian remembers. […]


  7. Posted by KickinNames... on 2012/06/21 at 7:19 AM

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! The pain was just starting to subside…
    A few thoughts:
    What a freaking talented group at almost every key spot. God I miss B Mc’s manly hold up play….how was there only one of him created in US soccer?
    Almost forget what a beast Sanneh was in that game and world cup. He was MOM unless Donovan puts away 1 of those handful of chances.
    John O”Brien was so far above anyone that we can slot in that LB slot and he was a MF by trade. What a solid player.
    Reyna missing that 50 yd volley by about 3 yds. He was such a special player…
    And who really watching that replay can use the “ball to hand” interpretation for that: on the line and he is looking at the ball and his arm moves (yes it moves!) juuuust enough to knock the ball out. 99.9 times out of 100 that call would be made.
    I’m going to go sit in the dark and cry softly for a while…


    • Posted by schmutzdeck on 2012/06/23 at 10:16 AM

      JOB was a left back by trade but he also played in midfield frequently for Ajax. In this game I’m pretty sure he was in midfield

      Midfielders and fullbacks switch positions so often (note how Bender just did so for Germany)that I’m surprised anyone notices.


  8. Posted by Jared on 2012/06/21 at 11:33 AM

    Bob Ley just mentioned Ballack’s goal from 10 years ago and Twellman just starts saying “Handball”.


  9. Posted by Nick on 2012/06/21 at 1:19 PM

    The biggest question I have re-watching this today is whether or not one of the “fifth officials” would have the sack to make that handball call in a World Cup QF? In the Euros this year they appear to have figured out their role, but in the Europa and Champions’ Leagues this past season they were pretty useless.


  10. Watched this game in the middle of the night in a bar in SF. Sitting next to me, 2 German fellas. In the Brazil match (I think) prior to US-Ger, I made a comment about a ref missing a call and these two guys laughed and suggested in thick accents that I was too soft and didn’t know how to call high-level play. Then, after Frings committed his sin, I turned to them to see if I was again being too soft. These two salty, crusty German fans, white-faced from the near disaster & appearing a little guilty, but grateful, both admitted it was indeed a handball. What a match. My all-time favorite USMNT performance.


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