So, South Korea vs Brazil will have two reviews. This is the first one, which as the title suggests, is more of a personal tale as this is the first senior game that I’ve actually gone to since I’ve started to blog about Korean football. This first one is also more personal and focuses more on the experience rather than the game itself. I’m planning on writing a second review which will be more along the lines of my usual objective, tactical self later (after watching the replay). As a side note, I don’t usually write this style, so if it sucks, mianhaeyo.
Our taxi crept along the road, snarled in the heavy traffic. Alongside us families, kids, and couples walked down the road. The taxi turned right, and suddenly there it was, Seoul World Cup Stadium. The stadium lies on the west side of Seoul, just north of the Han River, in Mapo-gu. On the east side of the stadium is the city sprawl of Seoul. The trendy area that surrounds the arts univeristy, Hongik. On the west side are parks, transformed from landfills before the 2002 World Cup. If you’re coming from the east side of the stadium, on the aptly named World Cup Road (월드컵로), the stadium looms large in the distance.
As we got closer, the traffic came to a very definite stop as taxis, fans, and buses all tried to reach their destination in time. Our driver suggested we jump out and walk the rest of the way. We paid him, got out, and joined the mass of people making their way to the entrance. Football matches in Korea are always a bit interesting for jersey watching. There were, of course a number of Korea and Brazil shirts. But also plenty of Barcelona, Manchester United, and Arsenal shirts. The most common names? Park Ji-Sung (unsurprisingly), Park Chu-Young, Lee Chung-Yong, and . . . Neymar (I also spotted a Lee Dong-Gook one).
This match was also interesting, as it was the first national team match that I went to with my wife, and we also brought along our 10 month old daughter. My wife is not We squeezed through the crowds and security lines to find our seats. Not the best in the house. Right in the corner at the southwest side. We settled in, just as the line ups were announced. Neymar certainly received the biggest cheer, although I suspect Son Heung-Min would have gotten a bigger one if he had started. Ki Sung-Yueng, starting for the first time since his ‘scandal’, received a mixture of cheers and boos. Clearly not all have forgiven the Sunderland man for his transgressions. The XI was a bit surprising to me, no Son Heung-Min, and a bit of inexperience at full back with both Lee Yong and Kim Jin-Su starting. The only surprise in Brazil’s line up was the presence of Hulk on the right.
The game kicked off, and the Red Devil fans in the north end of the stadium unfolded a banner that read, ‘Again, 1999’ referring to the last time Korea beat Brazil, through a stoppage time goal by Kim Do-Hoon. Would it happen again? The early signs said probably not, with Brazil getting all the early possession. The crowd also showed who they had come to see. The Brazil number 10, Neymar. His every touch and pass was ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’. Brazil certainly looks good value early on. They do well to keep possession, and break up every Korean “attack” with ease. Their only problem is creating chances. Hong Myeong-Bo has decided to start defensive midfielder Han Kook-Young alongside Ki Sung-Yueng, and the Shonan Bellmare player is like a feisty and angry dog, snapping at anything that comes near him, and doing his best to get a little niggle in at Neymar every chance he gets. The strategy seems to work as Neymar, despite his back heels and stepovers, is largely contained to getting fouled in the Korean half. Lee Chung-Yong similarly is in a fighting sort of mood, and he goes in hard on several occasions, eventually prompting a shove from Marcelo and angering virtually the entire left side of the Brazil teams.
On the attack the Korean team looks a bit lost. Hong has done some major reshuffling with Ji Dong-Won as the lone forward, Koo Ja-Cheol re-instated at his normal “number 10” role, Lee Chung-Yong right, and Kim Bo-Kyung left. A sort of trip back in time if you will to how the players all lined up a year or two ago. How things have changed. None of them look extremely comfortable, and their movement and positioning is all a bit lacking. Ji Dong-Won in particular is having a rough go of it, so much so, that my wife, who isn’t the biggest of football fans, asks me who the number 18 player is a few times before muttering, “Ji Dong-Won, wae irae?” (What’s wrong with you, Ji Dong-Won?). Ji certainly seems a bit short on confidence and a little slow in his decision-making, losing the ball on a number of occasions, killing several attacks.
My wife’s footballing observation prowess pops up later as she identifies Brazil’s David Luiz as a player who is doing quite well, and indeed, David Luiz is doing a good job of ending Korean attacks when the forwards aren’t doing it themselves. The missus does get a laugh in at his expense though when he ventures forward and skies a shot into the south stands. “Yagu aniya?” she laughs (Is this baseball?). David Luiz’s poor effort aside, it’s actually a rather promising sign, as it’s one of the few clear opportunities Brazil has gotten thus far. Hong Jeong-Ho and Kim Young-Gwon are doing a good job on Jo, Hulk is not doing well, Neymar is getting fouled before he has a chance to shoot, and Ki doing well with Oscar. And for 43 minutes that dream of a 1999 repeat is alive. But then it finally happens. Neymar is fouled for the seemingly 100th time. This time though it’s a bit closer and more central to the goal. He steps up and curls it home, Jung Sung-Ryong getting fingertips to it, but not able to keep it out. And despite the crowd being solidly pro-Korean, it lets out a huge roar of delight. The guy sitting in front was incredibly happy that Neymar had scored because he had managed to record it on his phone.
The crowd’s less than partisan nature was a bit surprising as Korea has a very strong sense of pride in itself. Neymar’s goal was quite nice, but a little restraint may have been nice. I suppose more than anything, the crowd’s reaction reveals more about how Korea really feels about sport and “it’s” team. Namely that they’re not that important to the average person. Most it would appear that for most Koreans, football is just an activity where they can take pride in their team, but it’s not a life-or-death occasion. If something prettier or shinier comes to town, than they are more than happy to cheer them on as well. Again, clothing may be the best way to illustrate this. It’s very common to see kids and adults walking the streets wearing football team gear, mainly jackets or training shirts. I regularly see my students (boys and girls) in Barcelona, United, Arsenal, and Chelsea stuff. Outside of school you’ll see old men wearing similar stuff. Most of them don’t actually support the club who’s stuff they’re wearing, but it’s fashionable and the teams are winners (get your Arsenal jokes in here). It also points to a flaw in the idea many Euro teams have in their marketing strategy. That signing an Asian will increase sales. Winning increases sales. But that’s another story, back to the game.
The second half starts and Brazil score almost immediately. The defense parts majestically for Oscar to walk through unopposed. The young Chelsea midfielder does well to round Jung Sung-Ryong, and then put a high, powerful shot past the defender (I can’t remember who honestly) who’s guarding the line. 2-0, and it all looks a bit lost. The crowd though is still in a good mood, and the partisan nature is starting to creep in a bit. Neymar is still getting the ‘oohs’ every time he skips past a player, but Oscar’s goal isn’t greeted with the same excitement. Hong makes a change, bringing off the ineffectual Ji Dong-Won and putting in Lee Keun-Ho. The move seems to pay some small dividend immediately as Lee seems to have energy and directness that Ji lacked. The crowd’s other personal favorite appears on the big screen giving the them a reason to let out a huge cheer. Son Heung-Min is warming up, but it takes until the 65th minute for him to come on. Son also seems up for the game, doing his best to run at the defense and cause problems. Unfortunately for him, Brazil seems to have tagged him as the man to watch as he gets some fairly close attention from Dani Alves, David Luiz, and Luiz Gustavo. Short of space to work in, Son ultimately doesn’t bring much influence to the match. In the papers build-up battle of Son vs Neymar, it’s pretty clear who the winner is.
In the end, the clock ticks down, and there is no repeat of 1999. Brazil wins, 2-0. And while it would be easy to complain about the performance (and I will to an extent in the second review), we left the stadium in fairly good spirits. The team fought hard, and was not run over by Brazil. The rest of the crowd seems to share the same feeling. It wasn’t a win, but it was a better result than what Japan (3-0), Australia (6-0), and China (8-0) could muster. One suspects though that such a result won’t be sufficient come the next match against Mali in Jeonju. A win will be demanded on Hong and his players, who hopefully will be able to deliver the goods.
Tavern owner intruding: A Facebook Tavern reader alerted me to the fact that the spam filter was catching EVERYTHING and no one’s comments have been going up the past several days. I just manually corrected that and threw all comments public just now. Not sure what’s going on – I’ll be doing some web maintanence and working to fix the spam filter. BTW, Jae, I state the obvious – but OMG your baby daughter is so amazing CUTE!!! [ahem] I mean, dude, that was a rad review…