THERE CAN be no doubt that the tournament had the right winner. There can also be no doubt that in terms of organisation and hospitality the 2002 World Cup was unrivalled.
I have had the good fortune to go to the last six World Cups, five on behalf of different media.
One suspected before the tournament that the use of 10 stadia and the admittance of 32 countries was going to be too great a burden to organise effeciently. In truth, the stadia do become a problem to those wonderful hosts but the advent and improvement of the lesser known countries to the Western world has struck an important chord for football supporters.
We now know that there are many good players from Asia and, more suprisingly, the United States is really beginning to make its mark.
South Korea came out of the tournament with terrific credit and although I did not have the opportunity to see Japan play, they obviously have made forward strides.
Being based in Korea and only venturing into Japan once, I felt I was fortunate to see some of the better early games. I could not have imagined Costa Rica, for example, to show such ability and entertainment in their play being a country who I knew absolutely nothing about before reading the reference books just prior to the tournament.
Although they took a relatively early bath in players like Lopez, a left-sided midfielder who reminded me, dare I say it, of Liam Brady and Gomez, a front player who could not only hold the ball up and manouevre it, but score goals and take people on. We will have to see whether or not he gets a lucrative move from South America. Lopez is an older player but it was a pleasure to see him.
The Western European-based players who had ventured far in the Champions League did look jaded. One could hardly recognise the Arsenal contingent in the French team, the Germans staggered to the final and then did themselves credit and England definitely looked one degree under. Even when taking the lead against Sweden they sat back, as they did against Argentina, but held on, as indeed they did against Brazil when they needed to thrust forward and expose the man advantage.
England will reflect in the cool light of day on a disappointing adventure.
Although we were all delighted that we beat the old foe Argentina, we were unable to be convincing. Against Denmark, the predatory skills of Owen and our 3-0 interval lead justified us saving energy in the second period but overall it looked as though we didn't have 'the legs'.
We were all delighted with the Republic of Ireland's wonderful spirit. I was fortunate enough to be in the stadium when they fought back so heroically against Spain. Ireland had spirit to burn and Robbie Keane and Damien Duff proved that forwards who can turn and run at defenders can cause havoc.
Mick McCarthy's use of substitutes was outstanding but when you have a 6ft 5ins beanpole ready to come on, handle the diagonal ball and create mayhem, you always have a chance of picking up a late goal. Niall Quinn has helped Ireland do that on more than one occasion.
Our director of football David Pleat gives his closing thoughts on the World Cup in two parts - the second will follow tomorrow.