Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Salute to Aggression - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 4)

Football fans shall never forget how the Koreans shocked the world four years ago. Thanks to a miraculous combination of some critical success factors, the Koreans achieved what had been unimaginable among fellow Asians. Like many other football fans left with their jaws deeply dropped, I was tremendously impressed and inspired by the fighting spirit of the Koreans. They deserved respect from both their opponents and football fans worldwide.

It was therefore not surprising if you told me that you were terribly disappointed and upset last night.

So was I.

It makes perfect sense to have high expectations of national teams like Korea to play aggressively, motivated by a genuine determination to win. This is especially true for Koreans who have earned a reputation for their endurance and passion for national glory. Unfortunately, what I saw last night was a team that had no strategy nor confidence, but hesitation and conservatism. While I understand that the Koreans are not as good as they are perceived to be in terms of individual football skills, I never expect that they had to spend at least 45 minutes to sort out how they should play against Togo.

Worse still, midfielder Bak Ji-seong's performance was by no means encouraging. I never watched him play for Manchester United, but he was obviously a target of Togo defenders, most probably because of his fame more than anything else.

Even one of the most experienced players captain Yi Un-jae was terribly restless in the first half of the game. He ran all over the penalty area to pick up the ball, even though the Togo strikers were also running around, ready to take advantage of any unexpected opportunity.

Everything changed, however, in the second half when An Jeong-hwan, the 30-year-old striker who helped his country achieved the miracle in 2002, joined his team mates in the pitch. Even Togo was inspired to play aggressive in the last 20 minutes after Korea's equaliser and winning goal.

Indeed, Korea's aggressive strategy in the second half was not a decision of An, but his calm and enthusiastic performance was undoubtedly constructive to motivate his team mates. Right-wing striker Yi Cheon-su was no longer on his own. Soon both Yi and An scored two beautiful goals with a free kick and a parabolic long shot near Togo's penalty area respectively.

After all, it was not necessarily a bad thing for Korea to lose the first goal to Togo. Otherwise they might have lost the game, and more bitterly.

P.S. In this piece, the commonly used English romanisation of Korean names are replaced by the standard romanisation system promulgated by the Korean government in 2000. Bak Ji-seong is "Park Ji-sung", Yi Un-jae is "Lee Woon-jae", An Jeong-hwan is "Ahn Jung-hwan", and Yi Cheon-su is "Lee Chun-soo".

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