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South Korean dream ended by Germany

© Reuters 2002

By Jason Neely

SEOUL, June 25 (Reuters) - South Korea's dream World Cup run ended one game from the final on Tuesday when their red-clad fans tasted defeat for the first time in the tournament, 1-0 to Germany. Without a win in five previous World Cup tournaments, the Koreans had stunned Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain with their pacy, high-class football that galvanised a nation and surprised the traditional powers. With a golden goal to dispatch Italy in the second round and a steely-nerved quarter-final win on penalties over Spain, South Korea have thrilled their Red Devil fans and emerged as Asia's top footballing country in the first finals held in the region.

But Germany's semi-final win, sealed by a late goal from playmaker Michael Ballack, ended the Korean dream and put the triple world champions into their seventh final against Brazil or Turkey. "The fairytale has already lasted several weeks ...of course it is beyond expectations, even my expectations," South Korea's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink said before the match.

He said South Korea had started to surprise people before the tournament in a series of warm-up matches that caught teams, including eventual quarter-finalists England, off guard. Before their semi-final defeat, South Korea had lost just one of 13 matches over the past four months, their only loss being a come-from-behind win by world champions France in late May.

"It's not just by accident but if you see the long sequence of games we played, not just now but also from let's say March until now, there's stability so it's not a complete surprise," Hiddink said. Things have changed quickly for Hiddink, who spent most of last year and early 2002 fending off criticism of his team changes and a tough friendly schedule that produced poor results, including an unsatisfactory fourth place at January's Gold Cup.

Yet with the team's improved fortunes came a tide of football fever that swept across South Korea during a World Cup tournament full of surprises, including the performances of both co-hosts. Japan, in only their second finals, advanced to the second round for the first time after wins over Russia and Tunisia.

South Korea, long Asia's most frustrated finalists, entered the tournament as underdogs in a group with Poland, Portugal and the United States and finished top of the standings. A 2-0 opening win over Poland ended 48 years of futile endeavour and lit a fire under their fans who took to the streets in their millions to watch matches on outdoor screens.

On Tuesday, a sea of some 65,000 cheering, swaying fans filled Asia's biggest football stadium in Seoul with rousing chants of "Ohhh Korea" and "Dae-han Min-kuk" ("Republic of Korea"). Police estimated seven million people took to the streets to watch the match on outdoor screens and TVs at sidewalk bars and restaurants.

But Ballack's goal 15 minutes from time put them out of the race for the trophy, and the hosts will meet the losers of Wednesday's Brazil v Turkey semi-final in a third place playoff on June 29 in Taegu, South Korea.

The final is on June 30 in Yokohama and the thought of reaching it, beyond their wildest imagination just four weeks ago, had been sweetened by Korea's feisty competitive feelings about neighbouring Japan. The Japanese colonised the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and remains South Korea's key rival on and off the pitch.

FIFA agreed to let the two countries co-host the World Cup, something never done before, after each side went all out to win the right to host the biggest finals in sport. Hiddink promised an early, sustained attack against the Germans and his team delivered. The hosts, as they have throughout the tournament, played swift, attacking football in the first half but Germany, true to form, held firm and made the most of their chance when Ballack scored from close range at the second attempt after Oliver Neuville's run down the right.

South Korea's players were spurred on by the deafening roar of their doting supporters, something even the most hardened sides from Europe and South America have marvelled at, but they could not find the inspiration to break down their opponents.

For his role in the team's incredible run, there have been calls to grant Hiddink South Korean citizenship and politicians and companies have pledged to emulate the 'Hiddink Way'. Whatever he does in the future, the Dutch master tactician will never forget the 2002 World Cup

Reports provided by

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Tuesday, 25 June
South Korean dream ended by Germany
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