Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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The Eastern Front
When you saw South Korea-Poland 2:0 come across the wire, you probably
thought something like: "Hey, the Koreans finally won one -- good for them."
And you might have speculated on how they pulled it off: maybe a lucky goal
or a dubious penalty, maybe one inspired moment, maybe just adrenaline from
the home advantage.
Forget it. The Koreans didn't pull it off, they blasted it out. This was a
full-dress, 90-minute, hide-the-children crusher. They beat Poland on
defense, in midfield, in attack; they did it with speed, technique,
intelligence; they ripped down the curtains, busted the furniture, and went
to the cast party afterwards. The game was played in Busan, but they would
have won it in Kobe, in Warsaw, in Greenland, in the Sea of Tranquility. You
were left wondering, not how the Koreans had failed to win a game before,
but how they hadn't won the World Cup itself.
Starting tomorrow, check out the Korean calendar. It'll be divided into B.
H. and A. H. -- Before Hiddink and After Hiddink. For 40 years, Korean
football had been fast, energetic, full of desire and stamina but little
else. It was 11 players running, fouling, taking spectacular long shots,
largely ineffective and plenty primitive. Now it's intelligent, technically
fluent, full of vision and inspiration, a futurist's delight. Poland, with
its physical style and long-ball counterattack, looked not only four levels
inferior, but four decades out of date.
How to describe such a comprehensive victory? What impressed me most was the
tremendous variety in the Korean game: long passes from sweeper Hong
Myung-bo and defensive midfielder Kim Nam-il; short and precise passes from
midfielders Lee Eul-young and Park Ji-sung; number-10-style playmaking from
Yoo Sang-chul; crosses from right winger Song Chong-gug; runs from forwards
Ahn Jung-hwan and Seol Ki-hyeon; penalty area play from target man Hwang
Sun-hong. Their best chances came from the wings, but Yoo and particularly
Park showed themselves dangerous in the middle as well. Korea even managed
to hold the Poles in the air; Kim, Hong, and right back Choi Jin-Cheul
battled for every ball, and were never overmatched. And of course there were
the Korean staples: speed, conditioning, desire.
Although Hiddink talked a lot about Total Football in the runup, this wasn't
really Holland 1974. Inside midfielders Park and Yoo swtiched sides a lot,
and Seol was working both wings agressively in attack. But for the most part
the players played their positions. Particularly impressive was left winger
Lee Eul-young, spare and intense: he delivered superb two-way football all
game, finding spaces with runs and passes, breaking up attacks whenever
necessary, setting up Yoo's superb strike for the second goal. Although left
back Kim Tae-young struggled early with the pace of Olisadebe, the defenders
as a whole did their job admirably: rarely out of position, winning every
ball that mattered.
I'm trying to think of something negative to say, a warning sign for the
games to come. The only thing I can think of involves Hwang, who scored on
that marvelous redirection from Seol's pass. He's 34, extremely
injury-prone, and left early with what appeared to be a thigh strain. I
haven't heard any reports of his condition, so I don't know if that'll be a
problem. But when he came off, Ahn came on, and was absolutely dazzling. If
for some reason Hwang can't go, that'll leave the team without a true
centerforward, but with so much intelligence and variety in their game, they
won't need one. They may not even need a keeper.
I live in the USA, and for months the talk has been of how we'll do our best
against Portugal and take three points from Korea. But right now I'd rather
play Portugal. Maybe this was a fluke, and it's hard to imagine Korea
playing this well -- it's hard to imagine any team playing this well -- next
time out. But make no mistake: with the possible exception of Italy against
Ecuador (Germany-Saudi Arabia was a training exercise), this was the best
performance by any team so far in the World Cup. The sign, in English, read
"Hiddink! Make our dream come true!" But "dream" is much too mild a word.
Try "fantasy," "ecstasy," "rapture."
Then cross the water and come down to earth. Japan, the other host, was in
action as well, and along with Belgium delivered a game that gave new
meaning to the word "archaic." If South Korea-Poland was fantasy, this was
paleontology. For an hour the teams delivered some of the worst football in
World Cup history. Japan had only two ideas: when in doubt, foul; and send
long balls as far down the field as possible, hoping to take advantage of
superior speed. Belgium had only two ideas: when in doubt, foul; and send
high balls into the box, hoping to take advantage of superior height and
strength. Belgium was getting the better of it, but it hardly mattered: all
you wanted was to see the game end as quickly as possible, so you could do
something enjoyable, like unstop the toilet.
Then some Belgian sent the 4,346th cross into the box, and as millions
prepared to yawn, Marc Wilmots (that's Marc Wilmots, folks, not Pele)
executed a perfect bicycle kick. Really, a 100% pure perfect bicycle kick.
(Has there ever been a pure bicycle kick goal in the World Cup? I'm thinking
back 30 years and can't remember one.) And all hell broke loose. Takayuki
Suzuki latched onto a long pass and poked it beautifully past De Vlieger.
Junichi Inamoto blew by the Belgian defense and finished superbly. Peter van
der Heyden beat the offside trap and sent an elegant lob over Narazaki. The
play was furious, breathless, mesmerizing. The garbage had turned into
diamonds, the dog food into filet mignon.
But the aftertaste was still dog food. You couldn't help feel that the first
60 minutes were the reality, the last 30 some tortured invention. Orange
shirts aside (and wasn't THAT bizarre), do you really think Belgium is going
to turn into Holland? And do you really think Japan is going to turn into
I don't. And in thinking about what's next for Japan, I find it hard to be
optimistic. Once the action revved up, Inamoto was a revelation: fast, deft,
inventive. His apparent game-winning goal, disallowed for a prior foul, was
a little miracle of close-quarters play. But there wasn't much else to be
pleased about. Hidetoshi Nakata and Shinji Ono, the two supposed wizards of
midfield, obviously forgot their wands: Ono was pedestrian on the left wing,
and Nakata rarely saw the ball. Japan has the speed, true, but their lack of
strength and size was exposed by a very ordinary Belgian team. The one piece
of good news is that they seem to match up fairly well with their other
group opponents. Tunisia doesn't have the size to take advantage, and while
Russia's a bit bigger, they're very slow in defense, like Belgium. Any other
group and Japan would be sure of an early exit, home advantage
Another bad sign is that Troussier complained about the referee after the
game. Maybe that's just a coaches' reflex, but you don't have to be Guus
Hiddink to know when your team delivers a stinker. Japan had no one to blame
but themselves. Troussier's behavior has been fairly odd all along,
actually; he was absent from the press conference when the final 23 was
announced, and has refused to answer reporters' questions as often as he can
get away with it. Japan expects, and now that Korea has suddenly turned into
Italy and Argentina combined, they'll expect, demand, even more. The point
for the draw, Japan's first at the World Cup, was a nice reward, but all the
headlines are going to go to the guys in red. I wonder whether Troussier can
keep his and the team's cool.
It seemed like a stupid idea to have co-hosts; it still does. But given the
long-time antagonism between the two countries, it's a great story for the
press. The ticket rows, the empty seats, the organizational nightmares, are
now and forever old news. The football is here, and the war is on -- even if
at the moment it's missiles against rocks.
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