Thursday, June 8, 2006

Already Dancing In The Streets Of Seoul


It has been four long years since the end of the third-place play-off with Turkey when South Korea said goodbye to the 2002 World Cup but it is almost time for the Taeguk Warriors to show the world that the fourth place finish was no fluke.

A regular stream of reported surveys suggest that around 90% of citizens in the Land of the Morning Calm are expecting a place in the second round, despite the fact that the team has never won an overseas World Cup game in fourteen previous attempts at five tournaments.

That rate may have tumbled slightly after the two latest displays of the national team.

June 1 saw a trip to Oslo to face Norway, whose World Cup hopes were dashed in the play-offs by the Czech Republic leaving their participation in the tournament to one that warms-up other teams.

For Korea, it was a first game on European soil since Hiddink was in charge and it wasn’t the most entertaining of returns on a bright Oslo evening. In fact, the visitors, missing an entire first-choice midfield, had one shot on target during the whole game and in a laboured performance, never came close to looking like scoring until the last minute when Seol Ki-hyeon hit the side netting.

The Scandinavians didn’t show a great deal more invention and most observers were relieved when the game was brought to a halt. Visits to Oslo to play the national team are rarely exciting (the high point of the game was Morten Gamst Pedersen telling Kim Sang-shik exactly what he thought of him in language that Blackburn team-mate Craig Bellamy would have approved of) but at least none of the Taeguk Warriors picked up any serious injuries – though the aforementioned Pedersen also managed to kick goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae in the head.

The following game took place back in Scotland where Dick Advocaat had taken the team for a eight-day training camp at the training ground of old club Glasgow Rangers. However, the team travelled the short distance to the capital Edinburgh and Easter Road to meet Ghana. Any Hibernian fan that made their way to the stadium on a bright Sunday afternoon to check out the rumoured summer target of Hearts, Korean striker, Ahn Jung-hwan, would have surely been urging their rivals to sign him up.

Ahn, whose hair gets curlier by the day, was taken off at half-time, a substitution that summed up a disappointing build-up to the World Cup for the star, though he should still get the nod over Cho Jae-jin for the central striking role for the clash with Togo on June 13.

By the break, Korea were one-down to a Ghana team that looked impressively fast, strong and skilful. Lee Eul-yong soon equalized for the Koreans, roared on by a large and shrill red-clad contingent. That strike merely served to spur the Africans to move up a gear and the Black Stars ran out worthy 3-1 winners and with a little more composure in front of goal, the scoreline could have been slightly embarrassing.

The one positive to take from the game was that it concentrated minds fully on the opening Group G game with Togo. Pre-Ghana, the feeling in the media and the country was that the Africans would present the team with three points leaving the vital clashes to be fought out with France and Switzerland.

Advocaat had forever tried to reduce the nation’s (and perhaps the players’) over-confidence but found that the Black Stars of Ghana, in a tough group with USA, Italy and the Czechs did it for him.

The defeat did little to dampen a World Cup fever that is rampant in Seoul and across the southern half of the peninsula.


Despite the fact that the Norway friendly kicked off at 2 am on Friday morning in Korea, thousands of people danced, sang and ultimately fell asleep in front of Seoul City Hall, the same happened on Sunday evening.

They will be back, and in greater numbers too – on the evening of June 13. The whole nation is ready.

Copyright © John Duerden & Soccerphile.com.

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