Thursday, December 21, 2006

2006 In Korea: Part One

Advocaat in January Press Conference
January


As the New Year started, Dick Advocaat took his players away from a frigid Korea and onto warmer climes on a six-week tour to prepare for the big event in June. Many K-League coaches were not too happy about losing their best players for the majority of the pre-season.

Advocaat was not too happy either after watching the team start badly with a poor performance and embarrassing 1-0 defeat in Dubai against his former employers, the UAE. Results soon improved however. A draw with European champions Greece was followed by impressive wins over Finland and a tough Croatian team.

It was the off-season in the K-League so when the coaches weren’t cursing Advocaat, they were off buying new players and taking part in their own pre-season warm-up tours.

February


The national team showed signs of over-confidence against a powerful Denmark team and deservedly lost 3-1. Then the squad, which didn’t include the European-based stars, headed to California and put in two good performances.

Somehow, the team lost 1-0 to Costa Rica in Oakland despite dominating the game but achieved a memorable result a few days later. At Mexico’s second home of Los Angeles, a Lee Dong-gook goal gave the Asian team a great win.

On the way back to Korea, the team, stopped off in Syria for the first 2007 Asian Cup qualifier and defeated Syria 2-1 in a hard-fought clash.

Fans of the K-League were still waiting for the new season to start but Bucheon fans found that they would have to wait for a very long time. The club’s owners, SK, suddenly moved the team from the city just outside Seoul, all the way to the southern island of Jeju. The fans protested but the K-League and KFA stood silently by.

It was not a good start to the season.

March:

Winter was still hanging around when the K-League kicked off.

The league’s newest member Gyeongnam FC started what will hopefully be a successful K-League career with a typical K-League 0-0 draw against Jeju United.

20,000 saw that game but only 1,031 made it back for the following fixture.

Five matches were played in the first month and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma won four of them. The six-time champions were soon sitting ominously at the top of the table. Woo Sung-yong scored four as one of the title favorites announced their intentions.

Champions Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I had a litany of stars but found the old adage that it is harder to defend a title that it is to win it, an apt one.

It was all too much for this young Daejeon Citizen fan

Busan I’Park’s terrible form from the second half of 2005 continued. March contained three defeats and two draws – including a 4-4 draw with Daegu when Busan had been leading 3-0. Boss Ian Porterfield was in danger of breaking the K-League’s record winless streak of 21 games.

The national team had one game on the first day of March against Angola in Seoul. The game ended with Seoul World Cup Stadium covered in snow and the hosts having secured a 1-0 win. Park Chu-young got the only goal of the game – the high point of 2006 for the 21 year-old.

April

There was little going on with the national team but Dick Advocaat received a blow with the news that his number one striker Lee Dong-gook would miss the World Cup.

“The Lion King” tore his cruciate ligament during a April 5 K-League game between Pohang Steelers and Incheon United. Lee, who was omitted from the 2002 World Cup squad, had just scored a fantastic goal when he collapsed to the ground.

There was more gloom and doom in the south-east of the country as Ian Porterfield resigned/ jumped before he was pushed at Busan after results didn’t improve. The ex-Chelsea coach equaled the winless record but wisely got out before he set a new one.

Ian Porterfield in Busan in happier times



Seongnam won five out of six to disappear over the horizon. Woo Sung-yong got four more.

May

The first stage came to an end as preparations for the World Cup started to heat up. Seongnam ended up finishing first by ten clear points to become the first of the four teams to secure a place in the end of season championship play-offs.

Pohang finished second. New club Gyeongnam and moved club Jeju struggled at the bottom.

Ulsan, FC Seoul, Incheon United and Suwon Samsung Bluewings were all disappointing.

 Seoul World Cup Stadium says goodbye to the national team

The national team players said goodbye to the fans with two mixed performances in Seoul. The first was a 1-1 draw against Senegal with a 2-0 win over Bosnia three days later. On May 27, the team flew to Scotland leaving an expectant nation behind.

June

The first day of the fateful month saw a dull 0-0 draw with Norway in Oslo while three days later, the final warm-up game was against Ghana in Edinburgh. The Africans outclassed Korea and won 3-1. It should have been more and suddenly the opening game against Togo didn’t look quite so easy.

It wasn’t but the team took three points on a stuffy Frankfurt afternoon. The Africans raced into a first-half lead and the Koreans looked labored, tense and short of ideas.

It all changed eight minutes into the second half. Park Ji-sung was fouled outside the box and not only was the Togo defender sent off, Lee Chun-soo curled home the resultant free-kick to send the thousands of red-clad Korean fans wild. With 20 minutes remaining, Ahn Jung-hwan came off the substitute’s bench to score a famous winner – Korea’s first ever World Cup win overseas.

Ahn Jung-hwan and Advocaat after the Togo game

The action and the Red Devils moved east to Leipzig and the toughest game of the group – against eventual finalists France. The Europeans dominated the first-half and took the lead through Thierry Henry. Korea fought back in the second half and with a few minutes remaining Park Ji-sung’s shot floated agonizingly/delightfully into the net – the only goal that France conceded from open play in the whole tournament.

All that could be heard that night in the old city that was once the home of Bach, Mendelssohn and Wagner, were the cries of “Daehan Minguk,” from locals and Koreans alike.

The city of Hannover provides memories that are less happy.

Thanks to a last-minute Switzerland goal against Togo, Korea needed to beat the Swiss in Hanover to reach the second round. Phillippe Senderos gave the Europeans the lead in the first half and Alexander Frei scored a controversial second late in the game. The linesman flagged for offside, the Korean defenders stopped but the referee waved play on.

Korean players protest Switzerland's second goal

The dream was over for four more years.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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