South Corea had traditionally been the most powerful footballing nation in Asia, participating in every World Cup since 1986. Although they had been steadily improving, they had still not gone beyond the first round, and not even won a match yet. The Coreans were eager for this meager record to change as they were to co-host the 2002 World cup, hoping that home support would carry them further. Also, the Coreans had hired the experienced Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, who had time and resources to build up a solid team, playing quick passing football and taking advantage of the speed of the Corean players.
The Corean players were largely unknown outside Asia, but some of them were surely world class: the Anyang Cheetah’s Lee Young-Pyong (the best left-winger of the tournament) and Kyoto Purple Sanga’s Park Ji-Sung were to have excellent careers in Europe after the tournament (Hiddink took them both with him to PSV Eindhoven from where they went to Manchester United and Tottenham respectively); the veteran Hwang Seun-Hong was one of the most prolific strikers in Asia, while the offensive midfield had the charismatic Perugia offensive midfielder Ahn Jung-Hwan and Kashiwa Reysol’s Ju Sang-Chul.
The Coreans opened the tournament with their first world cup victory ever, 2-0 against Poland, before tying the USA 1-1. In their last first-round match they defeated Portugal 1-0 to take first spot in the group, sealing their already most successful World Cup to date. In the last-16 South Corea played Italy, and won 2-1 after extra time in a controversial match, on a late goal by Ahn, who was told by his upset Italian employers that he didn’t need to return to his club in Perugia …
South Corea had thus made it to the World Cup quarterfinal where they were to play another European power, Spain.
Spain was continuously looking for the World Cup glory that had always eluded them. In 1998 they had a terrible World Cup when they had been eliminated in the first round, but had entered the 2002 with an excellent qualifying record under coach José Antonio Camacho. The team had also started the tournament well with three consecutive victories against Paraguay, Slovenia and South Africa before facing the Republic of Ireland in the last-16. The Irish youngsters gave the Spaniards a terrific fight in a match that ended 0-0, and was only won by Spain after penalty kicks.
In spite of the Corean prowess against the other European sides, Spain was optimistic and as usual underestimating of the non-European sides, as it was clear that they were to face each other in the quarterfinals.
42,000 eager Corean fans assembled at Gwangju to push their team to victory against the Spaniards, and the Coreans also started well: the first quarter of the match they put pressure on the Spaniards, being both quicker and playing better passing football. However, the Spaniards, using their superior technique, slowly worked themselves into the match, in particular by the young Joaquín from Real Betis, who was often getting through on the right side, as well as the Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes having some good chances that were well saved by the Corean goalkeeper Lee Won-Jae.
Early into the second half Valencia’s Rubén Baraja scored, but the goal was disallowed for pushing inside the Corean penalty box.
This was only the first goal that Spain would get disallowed as they increasingly seemed to get more nervous in the face of the fanatic home-crowd, an Egyptian referee that was very friendly to the home team, but also to the strong physical form of the Corean side, who also sought victory: the young Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas had a splendid on a volley from Park Ji-Sung.
As the match ended 0-0, it seemed that the Coreans had more strength.
However, two minutes into the extra time Spain had another goal disallowed, this time completely unjustified: Joaquín got to the back line and centered to Morientes, who scored on a header. But according to the referee, the ball had gone out of play, something that it clearly hadn’t. This only added fuel to the accusations of match-fixing against the Coreans.
The extremely unlucky Morientes had another close chance in the first half of the extra time, when he hit the post on a good volley, but the ball wouldn’t go in, and the match had to be decided on penalty kicks.
The Coreans were excellent at penalty kicks, since the matches in their national league were always decided on penalties in case of a tie. Thus, they scored on every one of their kicks, while Spain missed one: the young Joaquín was clearly nervous when he was to kick Spain’s fourth kick, and missed horribly. Hong Myung Bo’s final kick gave the Coreans the place in the semifinal against another disappointing tournament for Spain.
- 22nd June, 2002, Gwangju World Cup Stadium, Gwangju
- Attendance: 42,114
- Referee: Gamal Al-Ghandour (Egypt)
South Corea-Spain 5-3
- 1-0 Hwang Sun-Hong
- 1-1 Hierro
- 2-1 Park Ji-Sung
- 2-2 Baraja
- 3-2 Seol Ki-Hyeon
- 3-3 Xavi
- 4-3 Ahn Jung-Hwan
- Joaquín misses for Spain
- 5-3 Hong Myung-Bo
South Corea: Lee Woon-Jae; Choi Jin Cheul, Kim Nam-Il, (Lee Eul-Yong), Yoo Sang-Chul (Lee Chun Soo), Kim Tae-Young (Hwang Sun-Hong), Seol Ki-Hyeon, Lee Young-Pyo, Ahn Jung-Hwan, Hong Myung-Bo, Park Ji-Sung, Song Ching-Gug
Spain: Casillas; Helguera (Xavi), Puyol, Hierro, Nadal, Baraja, De Pedro (Mendieta), Romero, Valerón (Luis Enrique), Joaquín, Morientes