Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Seoul Seething At Goal That Never Was

Does the ball cross the line?

It hasn’t been a great season of football in the 2006 K-League and the same could be said of the championship play-off semi-finals that took place last weekend. However, there was enough to fill the sports pages for a few days in the South Korean media.

There was little hint of the approaching storm on a bright but chilly Saturday afternoon just to the south of the capital when Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma and FC Seoul were approaching the end of the first half.

Given the nature of the K-League and the importance of the game, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the score with five minutes to go before the break was goalless.

In a bid to break the deadlock, Seoul's long-haired Portuguese playmaker Ricardo took a corner for the visitors and the ball fell to team-mate and defender Han Tae-yoon. His low shot, stabbed through a crowded penalty area, looked destined for the back of the net until Seongnam defender Park Jin-seob intervened.

The only problem was that when he did so, television replays have shown that the ball looked to be behind the line. The referee waved away the red-shirted protests and seconds later, as the laws of football decree, Seongnam’s Brazilian hot-shot striker Mota found acres of space in the Seoul penalty area to stroke the ball home for the only goal of the game.

Obviously Seoul and the travelling fans were not happy. Coach Lee Jang-soo said after the game.

“I am a football man and not one to complain,” complained Lee after the game “but it was clearly a goal and the wrong decision.”

“We have worked so hard this season to get here and we now feel that it is so unfair. I can’t understand that this linesman went to the World Cup.”

Lee can’t be that much of a football man if he believes that appearances at World Cups are signs off competence in either playing or officiating fields. Still, it was a classic manager’s reaction to a bad decision.

The official site’s reaction was less understandable, screaming that, “thieves have stolen our championship tickets.” It didn’t stop there the fact that the linesman was due to retire was lamented as it meant that he couldn’t be punished while the referee was accused of pretending not to see the ball cross the line.

FC Seoul's homepage

‘Twas a classless reaction especially as Seongnam had a second-half goal ruled out for an offside which clearly wasn’t. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a nice slice of controversy to accompany a big game.

And what of the game? It was a fairly even affair though the hosts shaded it. Seoul had more of the possession but Seongnam, going for a seventh title, looked more dangerous around the box and had better chances.

There was no such uproar the following day when Suwon Samsung Bluewings took on Pohang Steelers, just a good old-fashioned strong defensive performance by Suwon who took the game 1-0.

Pohang fans

Suwon may lack the forward line of Seongnam but the Bluewings’ midfield is an excellent one. National team captain Kim Nam-il sits behind the inspirational playmaker Lee Kwan-woo and international midfielder Baek Ji-hoon, who since joining Suwon, has started to turn into an all-action midfielder.

He scored the only goal of the game and a fantastic strike it was too. A scorching shot from 25 yards that cannoned off the underside of the crossbar to hit the back of the net with the Pohang ‘keeper helpless.

Suwon players celebrate Baek's goal

The Steelers’ attempts to get back into the game were frustrated by a well-organised and well-drilled Suwon defence that even repulsed the returning Lion King in his bid for glory. Lee Dong-guk had missed the World Cup and seven months of the season through injury but the Pohang star was back at the right time to shoot the Steelers to a first title in 14 years.

Suwon fans

Suwon celebrate at final whistle

It wasn’t meant to be and on Sunday, Seongnam and Suwon do battle in the first of two legs.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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