Friday, June 16, 2006

Korea Make History

If it’s Tuesday it must be Togo-Korea and another unrelentingly hot day in the furnace better known as Frankfurt.

After the excitement of Australia’s dramatic late show against Japan in nearby Kaiserslautern the day before, the area around the station had been transformed from a red-light district into a red-shirt district as Korean fans and their national flags made their presence known.

The Taegukki may be one of the more philosophical national flags around, symbolizing yin, yang and natural order in the universe but other issues were on the minds of the signing and dancing Red Devils.

The mood was a happy one, which is precisely the way it should be on the morning of a World Cup opening game. It was also confident, though given the shenanigans that had been going on inside the Togo camp in the days leading up to the game; it was easy to see why.

“It doesn’t matter if Togo changes coach a thousand times,” said Kim Min-jong, who had made the short trip from her temporary home of Guildford where she was studying English. “We will win – Park Ji-sung will score.”



There were no Togo fans around to disagree with such a bold statement and the short S-Bahn journey to WaldStadion was punctuated by cries of ‘Daehan Minguk’ (simply South Korea) and ‘Oh, Pilsung Korea’ (Korea must/will win).

FIFA had controversially decided to close the roof on the fantastic Frankfurt arena due to complaints that the television pictures suffered with it open. The decision prompted fears of a ‘greenhouse effect’ with 48,000 people stuffed inside but two hours before kick-off, it was noticeably cooler inside than out.

By that time, pockets of red had already started to form in the stadium, the Koreans taking their seats considerably earlier than their Japanese and Australian counterparts the day before. However, that could have something to do with the fact that in Frankfurt, there is little to do after arrival at the nearest S-Bahn station other than take one’s seat while compact Kaiserslautern offered more in the way of pub and café facilities.

Sober or not, the excitement and noise levels started to rise especially as it became apparent that Ahn Jung-hwan was on the bench, his starting spot taking by Cho Jae-jin, the powerful Shimizu S-Pulse striker that had done enough in the build-up to persuade Dick Advocaat that he was the man to take on the team that finished above Senegal in qualifying.

The Dutchman had been talking about using an attacking 3-4-3 formation in the game that was seen as a must- win. It was a gamble as he had spent the 15 games in 2006 changing the system away from that to 4-3-3.

In the first half it didn’t work. The formation with three centre-backs, none of whom are ball-playing, move-making types wasn’t more attacking as wing-backs Song Chong-guk and Lee Young-pyo failed to get forward and there was little width. At half-time the sports editor of a Swiss daily remarked that he had been expecting to see ‘the sewing machine Korea’ a team that never stopped yet he was surprised at the lack of pace and speed in the Korean team.

Bold changes were needed at half-time and they were made. Ahn came on in place of Kim Jin-kyu and this time, the formation – almost 4-2-4 – was a genuinely attacking one. Korea started the second half with a great deal more urgency than they had shown in the first and the World Cup campaign was back on track in the 54th minute as Togo had a man sent off and Lee Chun-soo hit home the resultant free-kick.

It wasn’t long after until the Lord of the Ring carried on where he left off in 2002, hitting home the winner to give the estimated two million people out on the streets of Korea something to shout about as the team won its first ever World Cup game outside the Land of the Morning Calm.

After the game Advocaat admitted that the team failed to perform in the first half.

“It was two different teams, I couldn’t recognize the team in the first half. We couldn’t create chances and the midfield was too deep.”

“We took a risk with Ahn, it’s hard to play that formation in international games but it is so important to win the first game, to lose means that it is difficult to progress to the second round.”

“I thought the starting line-up was the best at the time but things change. In the second half Togo didn’t know what to do with Ahn and he created space for other players. It was a success because he scored a deserved goal.”




Opposite number Otto Pfister forcefully refused to answer a series of questions about the shenanigans of the few days leading to the defeat, called his players “overconfident” and the Koreans “mentally unstable” but it is the Taeguk Warriors who sit proudly on top of Group G, going into Sunday’s Leipzig showdown with France.

Copyright © John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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