Thursday, July 19, 2007

Korea Squeeze Into Quarters

Indonesia - South Korea.
It wasn’t pretty but South Korea scraped into the last eight of the Asian Cup with a 1-0 win over Indonesia in Jakarta. Saudi Arabia gave a big helping hand as they thrashed Bahrain 4-0 in the Sumatran city of Palembang.

The atmosphere in the Korean camp after the game was one of relief, not surprising when one considers that the team were bottom of Group D when Australian referee Mark Shield blew his whistle to signal the start of proceedings. One point from the previous two games had left Korea needing to win and hoping that the other result wasn’t a draw.

In the Korean camp prior to kick-off, there was a general expectation that the West Asian clash probably would end all-square. There was no bitterness just an awareness that such a thing could happen and it was Korea’s fault for putting themselves in the situation.

The Saudis were having none of it and, on a dry Palembang pitch, made sure that their West Asian neighbours were heading back home. The scoreline was harsh on Bahrain who had a number of good chances before the game got away from them midway through the second half.

90,000 fans packed in the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium didn’t care. It is sad that the special atmosphere created in the arena will not be experienced again in this Asian Cup. The chances of more than 5,000 turning up for what looks to be a fairly unglamorous quarter-final between the Saudis and Uzbekistan are about the same as seeing a good word about the Indonesian FA printed in the nation’s media.

Like the previous game against Saudi Arabia, the president and his wife were in attendance and this time there were a good number of soldiers to go with the legions of security.. The Premier League may be the most popular in the world but their yellow-bib wearing spotty stewards aren’t a patch on Indonesia’s machine gun-toting, gum-chewing, mean-looking crowd control cadets.

Indonesian stewards.

The Korean embassy had warned fans not to wander around in the colours of the Taeguk Warriors but, except the tearing down of a banner proclaiming friendship between Indonesia and Korea, I saw few problems. Even at the end of a game that saw the team defeated by the narrowest of margins when a draw would have seen them through, the disappointed fans applauded both teams off the pitch.

Goodbye Indonesia

“A hell of an atmosphere wasn’t it?” coach Pim Verbeek said to me after the game.

The Dutchman was hoarse obviously from shouting at his players in frustration. Korea had good chances to kill the game, especially in the second half, and really should have added to Kim Jung-woo’s 34th minute winner.

Korea’s wastefulness led to a final period that was tenser than it needed to be but the visitors deserved the win to set up a fourth successive Asian Cup quarter-final with Iran in Kuala Lumpur. It is 2-1 to Iran who took the lead in the mini-series with a thrilling 4-3 win in the Chinese city of Jinan three summers ago.

Korea will not be too sorry to leave Jakarta and its poor training pitches – there will be no such problems in Malaysia. Team Melli will pose a few however and the Taeguk Warriors will need to improve if KL is not merely to be a stop-off on their way back to Seoul.

The team's interpreter told me that they “will definitely be back” in Jakarta for the final on July 29. That remains to be seen. A victory over Iran will see a semi against Iraq or Vietnam and suddenly Korea are dreaming of continental glory.

'Tis a funny old game.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile




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