Aashish Gadhvi reviews South Korea’s resounding 2-0 victory over the Ivory Coast. With photos by Aashish and Saharial.
Have you ever had a dream that was so perfect that the moment you wake up you try your very best to go back to sleep and experience it all over again? Well I had one of those experiences, except that when I woke up on Thursday morning, I realised that it wasn’t a dream at all but sweet sweet reality. The build up to this game had been a particularly difficult one for myself in terms of organisation. I don’t know what it is about football clubs, but they seem to be run by the most incompetent people in the wide world of sports. As an armchair Brentford supporter, I do not have the most positive view of our blue striped West London rivals Queens Park Rangers. This Tuesday did absolutely nothing to help that view, and after a long battle with security and stewards, getting to our seats was an almighty relief. Our seats were right in the nosebleeds but we were in some good company. Amongst us were like managerial elite, the likes of Carlo Ancelotti, Dunga, Sven Goran Eriksson, Mick McCarthy, Roy Hodgon, Peter Reid and Ray Wilkins. No doubt some of the players on display were on their shopping lists for next year.
The attendance was similar to that of the Serbia friendly. Only one side of the ground was open and all of the spaces there were occupied, and this time it was 99.9% Korean. The noise was great throughout as expected and the free t-shirts that were being given away added an extra sweet taste to the start of the day! Getting back to the football, in all honestly, I am very happy to be proved wrong. A French journalist next to me said ‘score’ in a heavy French accent, and with the little French I learnt at GCSE I said back to him ‘Coree un, Cote d’Ivoire un’, being the diplomat I am and going for a 1-1 draw. I asked him the same question and he responded ‘Cote d’Ivoire trois, Coree zero!’ What a start to the day. The match then got underway and I was convinced that Korea’s white and blue strip was a bad omen, added to that the Ivory Coast’s home kit is in the colours of the Indian flag, and how can any patriotic Indian like myself wish defeat upon a team who wears the tricolours of the Motherland? It was then that I looked on in astonishment as Lee Dong-gook’s side footed volley smacked the roof of the net inside three minutes. I jumped out of seat and screamed, turned around to my French companion who simply had a look of Gallic confusion on his face.
The second sweet moment of the day. But remembering the experience of the Serbia friendly I didn’t get too excited. But Ivory Coast were simply not up to the task, and amazingly, Korea completely outclassed them. Many of the players in the Ivory Coast team may have their minds on other competitions, i.e. Didier Drogba, but they did attack and they did have chances and Korea met them at every point. Cha Doo-ri had the right wing on lock down, and no one was able to get past him. Didier Drogba who is twice the size of most of the Korean defenders struggled as well. Every time he got the ball three or four Korean defenders would pounce on him like a group of little Jack Russells. But even then Ivory Coast did have some good chances. Abdul Keita had a great chance, but Lee Woon-jae, who had an outstanding game, made save after save and kept the Ivory Coast out. In fact it was Korea who went closest from there on with captain Park Ji-sung hitting wide from just inside the box.
The second half was even better for Korea. The midfield kept the ball moving and created numerous chances. All in all Korea were the better team. What was most pleasing was we were treated to a vintage FC Seoul exhibition show as the ‘Double Dragon’ twins Lee Chung-yong and Ki Sung-yong linked up and turned on the style. These two created to chances on their own, one ending in Ki Sung-yong hitting the ball into the side netting and the other with Lee’s cross just going a little too far for Ki to turn the ball in from point blank. Korea finally killed the game off in the dying moments when Kim Jae-sung crossed the free kick into Kwak Tae-hwi who headed in the second. What was most pleasing is that both of these two came on as substitutes, which could be a good sign as to Korea’s strength in depth.
The only dampener on the day was defender Lee Jung-soo being stretchered off, which was a bad sight as he was having a great game. Hopefully he will recover soon. All in all every player played their part but my man of the match would have to be Cha Doo-ri who performed so brilliantly down the right wing in closing the Ivory Coast down at every given opportunity. Lee Dong-gook also looked sharp, as did Lee Chung-yong. This is a fantastic result for Korea, but they still shouldn’t get carried away. Playing a friendly and playing in the World Cup are two completely different ball games, and no one should start thinking that this is any kind of indication of what will happen in South Africa. It is however a great confidence boost for now, and if Korea can perform like they did here, then they will be able to compete with the best in the world.
After the match, I attended the press mixed zone, which no QPR member of staff seemed to be aware of. After the interviews, I saw my teenage hero Ahn Jung-hwan, and I was just as giddy seeing him at that time as I was seeing him on television in 2002. I screamed out his name and showed him the replica 2002 World Cup shirt I was wearing with his name and number on it. He walked over to me, asked for a pen from one of the KFA officials, and signed his name on my shirt, just above his number 19.
I thanked him in Korean for the kind gesture. He shook my hand and commended me on my pronunciation. He was then whisked away again. And in a heartbeat it was all over. In this day and age, football, money, scandal and celebrity all seem to go hand in hand. In the past week, the actions of Ki Sung-yong and of Ahn Jung-hwan have shown why I support this team despite not being Korean myself. The Korean players are by no means angels; Lee Woon-jae and Lee Dong-gook have proven that. Perhaps there is no real explanation for it, but there is something about this team and its supports, for what it represents and for what is evokes, that just makes you want to support them above anyone else. Even though I had an amazing day and got closer to my heroes than I have ever done before, I just wish that I could tell Ahn Jung-hwan, just for a moment, how much what he has done means to me.
Stay tuned for Aashish’s interviews with Lee Young-pyo and Park Ji-sung. More of Saharial’s photos of the match are here.