Italy v South Korea. 2002. The Daejeon World Cup Stadium. Perhaps one of the most controversial games in the history of the World Cup. To some, it was a plucky underdog nation beating one of the greatest teams in the world in front of a passionate, colour-coordinated fan base. To the majority, it was one of the most disgraceful refereeing performances in recent times, as South Korea benefited from every situation imaginable, with no repercussions, causing actual bloodshed at one stage. Whether you were overjoyed at South Korea’s giant slaying, or disgusted at Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno’s at best, incompetence, at worst, cheating, the match is certainly one for the history books.
South Korean coach Guus Hiddink knew about the might of Italy, having been the coach of the Netherlands for four years in the mid nineties. Hiddink realised that player for player, Italy were significantly better in every position, and devised a plan to stop them. Essentially, play dirty. Break up the play, don’t allow the Italians to find their stride in the match. With members of the Italy squad, such as Francesco Totti, having particularly short fuses, the aim was to wind them up and capitalise on the moments of chaos that ensued.
The signs that South Korea were going to fight tooth and nail for a result were there early on. Alessandro Del Piero picked the ball up in his own half, performed a trick then sprinted off with the ball, aiming to blaze past him marker. His marker, Song Chong-Gug, had no intention of letting him past, throwing an arm across the Juventus forwards face, dragging him to the ground.
Shortly after and a ball was played from defence to attack from the Italians. Christian Vieri got to the ball first, with his back to goal. Before he could react in any manor, South Korean centre back Kim Tae-Young barged into the back of Vieri, knocking him over and earning Italy a free kick. Under the management of Guus Hiddink, the South Koreans were much more resolute in defence, obviously confident in defending set pieces.
They were confident in defending set pieces, up until the 18th minute that is. Francesco Totti stood over the ball from a corner kick, picked his mark and whipped the ball in to the front of the six yard box. Despite there being ten Korean men in the six yard box, not a single one were able to pick up the prolific Inter Milan striker. South Korea had riled up the Italians, but Trapattoni’s troops had stayed true to their style and got their just rewards.
A little further into the first half and South Korea’s gamesmanship persisted. Francesco Coco and Choi Jin-Cheul contested a headed, with the referee awarding a free kick to the Italians, only after Italy’s belligerent protests. After seeing the Byron Moreno blow for the foul, Coco fell backwards. The camera panned in to his face and to the shock of the viewers, he had a nasty cut pouring with blood. The Italians quite rightly felt aggrieved at the lack of yellow card. They had the lead, but tension was building.
Italy were aggrieved to concede a penalty, after all of South Korea’s questionable tactics. Seol Ki-Hyeon was thrown to the ground by Christian Panucci, and the referee pointed to the spot. This was perhaps the only right call made by the referee all game! Ahn Jung-Hwan stepped up confidently and fired his shot low into the arms of Gianluigi Buffon. South Korea made a little bit of history that day, being the only team in history to miss more than one penalty in a World Cup (they also missed against the USA in the groups).
Into the second half and South Korea’s underhand tactics were keeping Italy at bay. Del Piero ran at the defence with pace. He skipped past a number of players before being “tackled” by Kim Tae-Young. The word tackled is in inverted commas due to the fact that on closer inspection, Tae-Young first put his body into Del Piero, before throwing an elbow into the head of the Italian.
With the game getting towards its closing stages, the South Koreans got more and more aggressive, and the Italians got more and more outraged. After a series of innocuous fouls by the Koreans, Gianluca Zambrotta decided to try and turn the game back into a football game. He picked the ball up in his own half and sped his way out wide to try and get in behind South Koreans full backs. Hwang Sun-Hong had no intention of letting Zambrotta get free though. The substitute forward chased back and put in an outrageous sliding tackle on the Juventus player, his tackle so high that his foot hit Zambrotta hard on the upper thigh. The result: no yellow card.
Throughout all the madness, Francesco Totti pulled a moment of brilliance out of his locker. He collected the ball in his own half, dribbled around three South Korean defenders, eventually reaching the edge of the box. Totti shimmied to try and wrongfoot the defender, then attempted to run into the box. The Korean defender slammed Totti with a body shot, knocking him off the ball in what should have been a sure penalty. Somehow, Byron Moreno waved play on.
With two minutes to go, Seol Ki-Hyeon broke Italian hearts. The South Koreans flicked the ball high into the box. Christian Panucci made a complete mess of clearing the ball, letting it bounce off his thigh as he fell trying to clear it. Ki-Hyeon rushed towards the ball to capitalise on Panucci’s mistake, hammering the ball past the stranded Gigi Buffon to equalise.
The game went from bad to worse in extra time. Francesco Totti received a pass in the South Korean box, onto to be felled by Song Chong-Gug. It was the second clear cut penalty of the game that Totti was denied, only this time Byron Moreno went a stage further. He rushed across brandishing the yellow card. Some Italians in the crowd may have been celebrating momentarily, only to be enraged by his decision to show the card to Totti, not Chong-Gug. This was Totti’s second yellow of the game, consequently seeing him sent off. Such was Giovanni Trapatonni’s rage that he punched the Perspex glass behind the dugout.
With moments to go, the biggest robbery since the Great Train Robbery was conducted. Lee Young-Pyo hit the ball into the penalty area. Ahn Jung-Hwan rose high above the great Paolo Maldini, hit neat header sneaking past the off guard Buffon in goal. The game was over, due to the golden goal rule. The Italians were stunned, shamed and seething. The South Koreans found themselves on the right side of some questionable refereeing decisions in their Quarter Final against Spain, before finally bowing out at the hands of Germany in the semi finals.
The purpose of The World Cup Calendar isn’t just to recount goal-fests. It’s to showcase the good and the bad of all things World Cup. This game may not have been a fairytale thriller, but it was certainly memorable. A red card, a missed penalty, goals, fights, this match really had everything and was a thriller for the neutrals. While it was certainly a good tournament for Ahn Jung-Hwan, it was a costly one. His contract at Italian club Perugia, where he had a long-term loan deal, was cancelled. The club president stating ” I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football.” It was a brutal move, but Jung-Hwan certainly will never have to buy another beer and soju in Seoul again after his antics that June, so it was probably worth it…
Tomorrow’s game: June 19th. Australia v Ghana. 2010.