The English national team at the 2002 World Cup was one of their best in recent decades. An unfortunate loss against Brazil sent them home, but if David Seaman had better nerves in that game, things might have been different.
England took an early lead with Michael Owen scoring in the 23rd minute, but Rivaldo equalized right before the halftime. After the break, goalkeeper Seaman had a lapse of judgment when he moved too far in front of the goal during Ronaldinho’s 40-yard free kick. Backpedaling clumsily, he let a relatively easy goal in. If he had instead deflected the shot, there would have been enough time for England to score a winning goal, perhaps on a David Beckham free kick in the dying moments of the game. If that alternative scenario had come true, what could have happened to England following the quarterfinal win?
Most experts agree that the winner of the England vs. Brazil game had the best prospects of going all the way to Yokohama, since both sides had looked unstoppable up to that moment. England finished second in group F, labeled as the “group of death”, after drawing with Nigeria as well as Sweden and defeating the mighty rivals from Argentina. That victory was a sweet revenge for the loss in the round of 16 four years earlier and greatly boosted the morale among English players. In particular, David Beckham (who was made into a scapegoat for his red card in 1998) had now become a true leader of the team and found himself loved by fans once again. After easily disposing of Denmark in the first playoff game by a score of 3-0, England rightfully were among the favorites to win it all.
After a hypothetical win against Brazil, England would have faced Turkey in the semifinal. By that point, Turkey had won only one game against the Albion, while recording seven losses. At the qualifiers for the 2004 Euro a year later, England beat Turkey 2-1, so we can confidently claim that Beckham and company would have prevailed as the slow Turkish defense would have had troubles to restrain the quick Owen.
Then who would have won the spectacular final between England and Germany?
It just so happens that the two rivals were in the same group during the qualifications for the 2002 World Cup, so their head-to-head meetings should give us a clue. After losing at Wembley 0-1, the Albion destroyed die Mannschaft in Munich 5-1, causing a crisis of German soccer. Although during the World Cup Germany were once again able to overcome their limitations, their leader Michael Ballack was suspended for the final because of a second yellow card. Therefore, we can surmise that England would have been in a better position to collect the trophy. After 36 years of waiting, football would have come home, and for the second time in their history, England would have been the world champions.
As a side-effect, Ronaldo wouldn’t have won the Golden Boot, which instead would have likely gone to Miroslav Klose. While Oliver Kahn would have kept the Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper, the Golden Ball award might have changed the owner as well. After being disrespected for years in the aftermath of the World Cup in France, David Beckham could have found himself on top of the world as the best player of the 2002 World Cup.