Well, I tried to fill the void the past 4 years with mostly club football, but it's just not the same.
Yes, there is beauty in following entire seasons of club football year after year, watching the best of each leagues duke it out in the Champions League (which my Tottenham appears to hold a ticket for next season!), but there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like the World Cup. The Euro is special and up there, too and some of my European friends claim it's better than the World Cup, but they're just stupid. (...I have a feeling I'm going to be hearing from my editor.)
Seriously, how could a tournament be better without the Brazilian flair, Argentine footwork, Cameroon goal celebration dances, the sea of yellow at Australia games (and I don't mean the 7 beers they had from an hour ago, although that's inevitable, too), the loud-as-hell Korea fans, the much-hated ignorant Americans (that includes me), and Didier Drogba's straight-perm?
The World Cup is like going to a month-long party. And might I add ...an AWESOME party - it's got booze, girls, singing, dancing, and yes - somegoodfootball (yup, I just checked the dictionary and that's one word). And because this tournament involves nations from every continent, it kind of feels like a Street Fighter or Tekken video game. (...Oh, was that the Korean in me talking out loud? By the way, how does "Yoga fire!" make any sense?)
Of course, when your country crashes out, there might be sadness and tears, ...but you can always go back to the booze and girls. ...And the singing and dancing, too - once you are wasted enough.
Anyway, if you are a South Korea fan, there is no better place to be than right here. That's right - while you may not like/get my sense (or lack) of humor, or agree with any of my opinions (and the fact that I write like a 5th grader), I'm confident that this is the best source for facts, insight, latest news, and the hottest gossip on Team Korea, in order to get you prepared for for the upcoming World Cup. All you need is a red shirt and a loud voice.
And I want you to know that as a "professional" journalist, I have decided to make a conscious effort to improve my writing to provide you the best possible bathroom literature. I have also decided to become a better human being, in order to gain your respect. To achieve that, I have set a number of goals for this correspondent section.
1 - I will provide unbiased facts, not just personal opinions (not like when I kept mentioning how referee Horacio Elizondo overruled 2 Swiss handballs in the penalty box, and let the second Swiss goal count, after the sideline ref lifted the offside flag, and the fact that players from both sides stopped playing. Alright - the Swiss did deserve the win and played better, but I just like to whine...)
2 - I will NOT be a sore loser (...OK OK, starting ................now!).
3 - I will NOT bring up mere cheap useless gossip (Although I might create a new section called "Hot Pick-up Lines, by John Terry" from time to time.)
4 - I WILL continue to spell the name of the FIFA president - Sepp Bladder. He sucks.
5 - I will NOT make any inappropriate remarks on any ethnicities, nationalities, or group of people - but I will embrace everyone's differences. We are the world.
Now that that's out of the way, here goes my heart-felt intro:
There was a time when I wanted to be ...Chinese. Growing up, I always thought the Chinese were so cool. It all started with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Chow Yun-Fat with his action flicks in the 80s (A Better Tomorrow, Hard Boiled etc) solidified that feeling, followed by Jet Li and his acrobatic awesomeness. Then when the 7'7" Yao Ming entered the NBA and showed everyone that Asians too can hang, I was sold - I wanted to be Chinese. And the biggest reason? Chinese men tend to have a good reputation with the ladies. Supposedly, they treat their women right - they cook, wash dishes, bring flowers, write poetry/songs for their ladies... Well, that is generally not the case for Korean and Japanese men.
As for Japanese men, they were/are cooler than Koreans, too. Heck, they might be the coolest of the 3. From way back, Hollywood featured the Japanese more than anyone else - the Sulu dude from the original Star Trek, the Samurais in Shogun, the Yakuzas in Black Rain (still entertaining, but much more un-PC today. I do wish Andy Garcia's head getting chopped off looked more real...), the ninjas in Ninja Turtles and American Ninja, Japanese base-brawls in Bad News Bears Go To Japan, mysterious lonely old men who live alone that like to spend time and give vintage cars to skinny teenage boys who are new in town in Karate Kid, ...the list goes on. Which reminds me - we've got important Japanese icons like Mr. Miyagi (Karate Kid) and Mr. Fuji (WWF wrestling). And they've dominated baseball in Asia since it was introduced to the east, and produced successful Major Leaguers in Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui (and his porn collection)... I wanted to be Japanese, too.
Well, until 10 years ago, I couldn't name that many Korean things to be proud of. M.A.S.H. didn't help our cause. There was this guy - Johnny Yune, a D-minus list comedian-actor from the 80s, but he was neither funny or able to act. And when I say D-minus, I'm being kind. Margaret Cho made things worse by not only being unfunny, but hurting me, just by being a Cho.
Well, I am happy to say that Korea has stepped up its presence in the west this past decade.
There have been notable baseball players in the MLB such as Choo Shin-Soo, Chan-Ho Park, Hee-Seop Choi, and Byung-Hyun Kim (although I'd like to forget Kim's World Series performances with the Diamondbacks and the Red Sox).
The biggest surprise may be the boom of Korean films. They have been getting recognition all across the globe, including at festivals like Cannes, Toronto and Venice (Old Boy, Thirst, The Host, Mother, and more), and there has been a flood of Hollywood remakes of Korean movies (sadly - most are cheesy romantic chick flicks, but at least it's something...) And we now have recognizable Korean faces on American TV/film, such as the fobby (F.O.B = Fresh Off the Boat) couple from Lost, the chubby guy that likes to get naked on MAD TV... and the new Star Trek movie's Sulu who also is in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is Korean. (He is also a Cho, just like me. Take that, Margaret Chooch!) Also, Korean soap operas have taken over many of the world's living rooms with their winning formula of clever twists and hot actresses.
We're still lacking in the music department, but hopefully that will change with time... I believe the drummer in this video might be Korea's most recognizable music star.
Then the 2002 World Cup happened. South Korea reached the semi-finals, and beating Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain on the way. Of course, there may be some of you who complain about the officiating, and I do admit there were some bad calls which favored Korea. But bad calls happen all the time, and it's time for you to deal with it, sissy.
Korea is now the biggest exporter of Asian footballers playing in Europe, and has more of them than all the other Asian countries combined. How about that? And while not all of the cases are worth writing home about, we do have some success stories that make me feel like a proud father. Workhorse Park Ji-Sung has become a centerpiece at Manchester United, Lee Chung-Yong of Bolton is generating a lot of buzz, and AS Monaco's Park Chu-Young was considered one of the best strikers in French Ligue 1 (before an injury slowed him down).
The way Korean footballers are perceived by managers, experts and fans alike has changed dramatically in Europe, and many clubs are taking bigger interest in them now. The number of signings has increased steadily over the years, which is a sign of gain in respect in Korean football.
Do I still want to be Chinese? Perhaps a little. But Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat and Jet Li haven't been that good in English language films, and Yao Ming's knees haven't functioned properly in a while. The appeal has died down a bit, even though they are still popular with the ladies. But all I can say is, it's not a bad time to be a Korean football fan.
So, many of you are wondering, "What is the state of Korea's 2010 WC squad?" Where do we stand?
I am happy to report that this is the greatest team Korea has ever assembled. (Well, according to my interview with Park Ji-Sung, he is hesitant to claim that title just yet, but I always like to jump to conclusions.)
Yes, there are still 5 or so number of player remaining from the 2002 squad, but we now have many young and hungry new comers. Talent and fitness-wise, they are far superior in every position than any of the squads we had in the past, with the exception of maybe the central defender spot (they have yet to find someone better than former captain Hong Myung-Bo.) My theory behind this improvement is the popularity it brought in 2002. The success attracted the best young athletes to football/soccer/blahblahblah, and away from baseball - which is still the biggest domestic sport there.
So, here is a look back at South Korean footballer activities in the past 8 years.
2002 - 2006:
After the major success of the 2002 campaign, European clubs were willing to give these Taekuk warriors a try. And for the first time in history, we were seeing a significant number of Korean footballers trying to prove their worth in Europe.
Park Ji-Sung and Lee Young-Pyo made a hop stop in Holland and helping PSV Eindhoven win a bunch of trophies before eventually arriving in the English Premier League. Seol Ki-Hyun moved from Anderlecht (Belgium) to Wolverhampton in England, to make some noise in the Coca-Cola Championship League. (For those who are not familiar with the English football system, that's basically the 2nd division. And to further confuse you, 4th division is called League 2. Go figure)
Many others spent some time in Holland (Kim Nam-Il and Song Jong-Gook), Turkey (Lee Eul-Yong), and Spain (Lee Chun-Soo), but their roles were somewhat limited.
2006 - 2010:
Park Ji-Sung continued to establish himself as an important ingredient at Man U (especially in big matches), and helped them lift multiple trophies, including the Champions League and domestic cups. And leftback Lee Young-Pyo helped Tottenham reach 5th place for two seasons in a row, before he left England. After a decent season in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, he joined the Saudi Arabian champions Al Hilal.
Here are all other Korean movements since 2006. (With no logic to the order.)
- Lee Dong-Gook: Signed with Middlesbrough in 2006, but returned to the K-League in disappointment. Not to worry - he became the scoring champ, MVP and took Junbook Motors to its first championship in 2009. During the win against Ivory Coast in the friendly in March, Lee blasted an awesome valley shot to show national team manager Huh Jung-Moo that he's still got game.
- Park Chu-young: Joined AS Monaco in 2008, and was on fire for the first half of the season before going down with injury. He is back in the line up, and getting close to being 100%.
- Kim Do-Hyun: Former K-League MVP joined Wes Bromwich in 2008 for a year, only to return to the Suwon Bluewings.
- Seol Ki-Hyun: Went from Wolverhampton to Reading, to Fulham, before eventually joining AFC Champions Pohang Steelers. Whether he will be able to wear the national team kit is a question-mark, as he is still recovering from a knee operation.
- Cho Won-Hwee: Joined Wigan Athletic for a season, only to return to Suwon Bluewings.
- Oh Bum-Suk: Pegged as the best-ever Korean right back. After a season of mixed results at Krylya Sovetove in Russia, returned to the K-League.
- Lee Chung-Yong: Joined Bolton, and has performed well beyond everyone's expectations. More on him in a later post.
- Cha Du-Ri: The son of the greatest Korean striker Cha Bum-Keun, has switched from forward to right back. He has been a steady starter with Freiburg in Bundesliga.
- Ki Sung-Yong: Joined Celtic, and was named Man of the Match in his debut against Falkirk (1-1) on Jan 16. But he hasn't been featured much since.
- Suk Hyun-Jun: Want to read something depressing? Suk was born in 1991. ...There, he was born in the 90s!. Joined Ajax in Holland in 2010, and has shown a lot of promises. They're calling him the Korean Zlatan Ibrahimovich, for his ability to score using his tall body frame. Unfortunately, he will not likely participate in this WC - but we have 2014 to look forward to!
- Kim Dong-Jin: After the World Cup in Germany, this leftback followed the 2006 Korea boss Dick Advocaat to Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia. There he performed well for 3 seasons and helped the club lift its first trophy. However, a collapse in October 2009 due to a circulation problem in the brain caused Zenit to release him from his contract. But all reports show that Kim is back to 100% and he now plays for Ulsan Horangis.
- Lee Ho: This midfielder also followed Advocaat to Russia. His contribution wasn't as vital, but has joined Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates in January 2010.
- Kim Nam-Il: The veteran midfielder has been a regular starter for Tom' Tomsk of the Russian league, and looks to return to the national team.
- Shin Young-Rok: This forward with the coolest name is also with Tom' Tomsk. Hasn't been able to showcase much of his skills there yet. But I have a feeling you will be hearing a lot of him in the near future.
- Park Hyo-Sang: Also with Tom' Tomsk, but hasn't gotten much time on the pitch.
- Noh Byung-Joon: Fulham and Tottenham showed interest in the 30 year-old forward in early 2010, but No re-signed with Asian champs Pohang Steelers.
- Kim Bo-Kyung: Sevilla has shown interest in this left-footed MF. (No matter what, do not spell his name "Po-Kyung" - the way a lot of Korean names substitute Bs with Ps, like Park instead of Bahk. "Po-Kyung" means circumcision.)
- Koo Ja-Chul: attracted interest from Blackburn, but nothing materialized.
- Yum Ki-Hoon: Birmingham City showed interest in this left winger, but that is currently on hold due to an injury that occured. However, when it looked like he would not likely be healed by the World Cup, he came back in late April to score 2 goals in his first match back.
It's great to be back, and hope you keep tuned into this correspondent section. Also, if you have an iPhone, the ESPN World Cup App is worth downloading. It provides the latest news for every country participating, fixtures, info on every stadium, and has a fantasy predictor game. And no, I don't have South Korea going all the way, but it's nice to dream. This App is FREE, and one of my favorite Apps on my phone, along with the Yo Mama's So... app. Here's a good one - "Yo mama's so stupid, I put a scratch-and-sniff sticker at the bottom of the pool, and she drowned."
Coming up in Part 2:
- Why is South Korea ranked so low? - I am not saying they should be a top 10 team. But not even top 50? Come on...
- Player Spotlight - Oldies but goodies? Lee Dong-Kuk and Ahn Jung-Hwan - Do they still have game?
Thank you, guys. Please feel free to email me with any questions and comments. I received some great hate-mail 4 years ago, which I enjoyed very much, too. Keep it coming!
Until next time,