World Cup Part 14: South Korea v Italy, 2002

HARRY COLLINS looks back on the moments that led to a superb victory for hosts South Korea over World Cup heavyweights Italy

Moments create memories, embellished and retold over time, handed down through generations and passed on with pride or resentment. They say that a football match can be won or lost in a moment; perhaps a moment of magic or perhaps a moment of madness. World Cups only occur every four years, we all know that. The World Cup is a stage where the greatest can shine and reputations can be built, it is also a tournament remembered for moments. Instances that remain etched in the history of our sport, such as Carlos Alberto’s strike in 1970 or Geoff Hurst’s four years before.

The moment that Ahn Jung-Hwan headed the ball into Gianluigi Buffon’s net saw a reported three million people celebrate in the streets of Seoul and an explosion of disbelief across Italy and the rest of the world.

South Korea had topped their group after wins against Poland and Portugal, and a draw with the United States. The reward was a tie against a strong Italian side that boasted a sensationally gifted squad. Ahead of the game, the Italians were heavy favourites, but the absences of star centre-back pair Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro provided hope. The Azzurri started poorly and South Korea were awarded a penalty by Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno, more on him later. Ahn Jung-hwan’s penalty was saved by the imposing figure of Buffon, before Vieri gave the Azzurri the lead on 18 minutes with a near-post header. Seol Ki-hyeon had won the early penalty after a foul by Christian Panucci and the same combination led to South Korea’s late equaliser as the Italian defender’s slip allowed the Korean forward to force the game into extra-time after 88 minutes.

As penalties loomed in Daejeon, the unthinkable happened and Ahn Jung-hwan’s moment arrived along with redemption for the earlier penalty and a place in the quarter-finals for the co-hosts. Italy had been eliminated in 1966 by a team from Korea, arriving home to a baying mob. There would be no mob this time, no quench for Italian blood, only outrage at the portly Ecuadorian in charge.

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The front page of the Corriere dello Sport read “LADRI” on the morning after the defeat to Guss Hiddink’s side. The headline translates to “THIEVES” and summed up the feelings of a nation. The Azzurri fans would admit that the South Korean side had good chances as the Italians defended their one-goal lead. There were also chances for Trapattoni’s side including a glaring miss from hero-turned-villain Vieri. There was though, in their eyes, only one person to blame. Moreno, who looked exhausted at times, left his mark on the fixture and two incidents in particular aggrieved the Italians. The first saw Francesco Totti given a second yellow card with Moreno (some distance away and struggling to keep up) adjudging the forward to have dived in the opposition’s penalty area. Defender Song Chong-gung definitely played the ball but there was clear contact between the two players and certainly no simulation from Totti. The next incident saw Damiano Tommasi wrongly flagged offside when through on goal, although this decision surely rests with the linesman? It was a heated affair with players from both sides lucky to escape without red cards following flailing elbows.

The immediate aftermath saw match winner Ahn-Jung-hwan’s contract terminated by Italian club side Perugia with Perugia chairman Luciano Gaucci quoted as saying: “That gentleman will never set foot in Perugia again.” South Korea went on to win their quarter-final with Spain on penalties after more controversy and drama in Gwangju. This result saw the Gwangju World Cup Stadium renamed the Guus Hiddink Stadium and the Dutch manager awarded with an honorary citizenship.

The referee refused to stay out of the headlines. Moreno was handed a twenty game ban for his managing of an Ecuadorian league match where he reportedly allowed for 13 minutes of added time. The additional period allowed the home side to score twice and snatch a 4-3 win. Headlines followed the now former referee once again when in 2010 he was arrested at JFK airport in New York after attempting to smuggle heroin into the country by strapping it to his body. He was jailed for 30 months for his offence.

The match between South Korea and Italy will remain one of the most memorable results in World Cup history. It will be remembered for the result and the celebrations across South Korea, but it will be remembered mainly for the moments. The moment when an exhausted referee sent off Totti, the moment when Tommasi was flagged offside and the moment when a Serie A striker eliminated the Azzurri.

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