Of the teams that South Korea encounters frequently, sometimes I wonder if Japan, Australia, and most Southeast Asian sides are the only other teams in the AFC that play honorably. Middle Eastern teams have a tendency to grassroll. China, North Korea, and Uzbekistan are known for their overly aggressive play – these teams seem to view football as a martial arts fight rather than an elegant sport. Recently, Thailand has been on an anti-Korea spree with their insistence that we cheated in some game many years ago (I forget exactly which game but it was a one sided victory anyway), although on our end the recent racism incident with Park Yong Woo probably is further fueling the fire. The worst part is that the refereeing quality is so bad that grassrolling and dangerous challenges are totally tolerated.
In this edition of the Asian Games the fans and the Korean media were openly worried that China would be the team to injure our players as they did in our last encounter. Rather it was Uzbekistan that came out to get us and ended up injuring key right winger Um Won Sang (the same player who got injured by a Chinese player’s tackle in June). This game featured some awful tackling, numerous occasions of instigating fights, and there was even a punch thrown when the referee wasn’t looking. And of course the referee look past the vast majority of them. The fact that Uzbekistan only got 4 yellows (two to the same player resulting in a red) is a joke.
Seriously why couldn’t Japan have played these guys? Japan plays a game less than us because they were drawn into a three man group, gets very easy opponents on the way to the final except for North Korea (oh how I wish we could’ve played HK in the semifinals)… meanwhile we play a whole extra game and get the two most aggressive teams in the AFC on the way to the final. And got one of our best players injured.
A little background on Uzbekistan: they’re always the dark horse team in the AFC. A team capable of upsets and good performances, especially at the youth level. For example they made it to the RO16 at the recent 2023 FIFA U20 World Cup (when we got to the semifinals). We’ve also lost to them a few times over the years and often struggle against them. Any game against them should not be underestimated. But these games tend to be remembered for the wrong reasons.
I still remember vividly sitting in my lab in college watching a U23 match against them where a player straight up punched LB Shin Sang Min three times, immediately getting sent off. A flying kick to the chest was on display too (and no red was given). To their credit the coach personally came to the dressing room after the game to apologize.
And in the all important semifinal that happened earlier today we also saw similar rough play coming our way. Here’s just a couple that I got videos of:
There are many more but of course I couldn’t find all of them. The first video is what got #17 his first yellow. The second one is what got Um Won Sang injured (watch the trajectory of the ball – the defender doesn’t make any contact). On that last one, after a slide tackle that was very obviously going to bring a second yellow to #17, #17 grabbed his crotch and started rolling on the ground – even though nothing happened to him. There must have been at least 3-4 of these bust ups in the second half.
Posting this after we win gold. In case of bad luck.