I have no comment on Portugal's enthrashment of North Korea - I just came up with that word. Man, I'm awesome.
Seriously - it was sad to see a Steven-Seagal's-career-esque collapse in the 2nd half, especially after how well they performed against Brazil. Now I have to endure headlines that will try to be clever like, "Portugal Sinks North Korean Battleship" on every news stand I pass by...
(Quick note: I just read in a South Korean news site that North Korea aired the full match LIVE! I'm kind of shocked...)
By the way - for those who confused my support for North Korean football as support for the North Korean government, you are way off. I root for them because I have 100% Korean blood, and just hoping the people of the North will have something to cheer about. And no need to preach to me about the atrocities its government has caused in the past 60 years. My dad is a retired-Political Science professor who specialized in the topic, and I grew up hearing about all the political diplomacy/tensions until my ears bled. ...Uh, I love you, dad?
Anyway - all the best to North Korea in their final match against Ivory Coast this Friday. Whoa... I just realized this Friday marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
Anyway... now onto my Nigeria post:
My love for African international football came during the 1990 World Cup, when Cameroon beat Argentina, Romania and Colombia on their way to the quarter-finals, where they eventually lost to England in extra time (and barely...). This was the first time an African nation had ever gone that far in the history of the tournament, but it was also my very first time seeing an all-black team play the game. (I was too young when Cameroon played in 82 - I was more into playing with dog poop on the streets then. Also, I had seen Egypt, Morocco and Algeria play before, but they don't really seem that African to me.)
But what made this viewing experience much more enjoyable was the goal celebration dance put on by the 38-year old Roger Milla, who was the highlight of that World Cup. The move, which prompts the right hand to be lifted in the air, the left hand placed on the belt area (I think it's the belt... Hmm...), and both legs to simultaneously wabble - was so awesome and sexy, that it became the signature goal celebration dance at our school/neighborhood soccer matches in Korea. (And how infuriating it is to see the other team score and do the Milla... Grrr...)
As someone who has always identified himself as someone from a weaker football continent, I still get a giddy feeling when an African nation does well against European and South American nations.
And in 1994, I cheered for Nigeria when they reached the knockout stage in their first Cup appearance, in which they beat Bulgaria (3-0) and Greece (2-0), before being defeated by the eventual runner-up, Italy. I rooted for them again in 98, as they beat Spain (3-2) and Bulgaria (1-0), and I clearly remember being bummed out to see them lose to Denmark in the second round. But the rise of the Super Eagles brought back those same happy feeling which the 1990 Cameroon team planted in me.
However, I have been a little disappointed by the African nations' poor performance at this World Cup, especially because it's on their home continent. With the exception of Ghana, everyone's been struggling, and now South Africa will be the first-ever host nation to crash out of the group stage, unless a miracle rescues them. ...I blame the stupid Vuvuzelas. I feel like they benefit no one - it's a lose-lose situation...
As much as I would like to continue rooting for African teams, you will not find me getting behind Nigeria this Tuesday. Duh... they go up against my beloved South Korea in the final match of the group stage.
Despite losing the first two group matches, Nigeria can still qualify if they beat Korea and Greece loses. One thing to note is the West African side has proven in the past that they can be a slow starter that could still finish strong. In the African Nations Cup earlier this year, they lost to eventual champions Egypt in the opening group match, but won the following 3 games to end the tournament in 3rd place.
Oh, and the 0 points they have accumulated so far should NOT be an indicator of how strong/weak they are. Korea should be reminded that they are historically one of the strongest sides of African football, along with Cameroon and Senegal. Their first loss against Argentina was expected (although they fought much better than Korea did against the South American giants), and showcased a world-class goalkeeper in Vincent Enyeama. As for their very unlucky second match, (not to take anything away from the Mediterranean side but) I think they would have beaten Greece if it weren't for Sani Kaita's silly send-off. Everything fell apart after that, and the Greeks took full advantage to come from behind to earn 3 points.
South Korea can advance to the knockout stage with a few different scenarios, but the surest way is fot Korea to win, and for Greece to lose. However, beating Nigeria will not be so easy. We only became somewhat successful against African nations in recent years, and it took A LOT of friendlies and research prior to the 06 World Cup in order to fully understand how to play against African countries. Here is a snapshot of Korea's record against African teams in the past 4 years:
W vs Angola (1-0) March 2006, T vs Senegal (1-1) May 2006, L vs Ghana (3-1) June 2006, W vs Togo (2-1) June 2006 - WC, W vs Senegal (2-0) Oct 2009, L vs Zambia with a limited roster (2-4) Jan 2010, and W vs Ivory Coast (2-0) March 2010.
There was a time when we just could not produce a win against African teams - whether it was the Olympics or friendlies. The problem always came in being out-muscled in fighting for the ball, especially in aerial situations. I remember watching an exhibition match in which Kenya's backline and midfield completely man-handled the Koreans - it reminded me of the first half of Karate Kid (the original one with Ralph Macchio). Good news is that we are not that physically-weak side anymore, as Korea's coaching and training staff now emphasize weight-lifting and muscle-building diet, that I'm pretty certain those days are over. We've been taking our vitamins.
One person who has stepped up in the physical department in recent years is Park Chu-Young, the France-based striker who tore it up for AS Monaco this past season. He once was labeled a "lazy genius" by the Korean media for his lack of desire to attack when things got rough, but his move to France triggered the aggressive side in Park. I pick him to be the key role in this match, as Ligue 1 tends to employ many Western African players (reasons being: cheaper price tag, same language etc), and he is accustomed to, and has done well against the style of physical defense and pressure that Nigeria will likely provide.
A big advantage Korea has is the West African side's suspensions and injuries; Regular starter Sani Kaita will sit out due to his red-card against Greece, and starting leftback Taye Taiwo and his backup Uwa Echiéjilé both will likely miss Tuesday's clash due to injuries. The gap in the left will be a target for (the probable starting right winger) Lee Chung-Yong to do some damage with crosses or penetration.
I do foresee a Korea win if they play their cards right. A 4-4-2 might the best approach in my opinion, but I still am worried about Yum Ki-Hoon, who has been the weakest link for Korea. I've always liked Lee Keun-Ho to partner up with Park Chu-Young up front, but unfortunately, he did not make the World Cup roster. Poops.
Let me stress again that Nigeria will not go away quietly, and will not let Korea score easily. We have seen their amazing goalie Vincent Enyeama make some impossible stops, but I also give their two centerbacks Danny "The" Shittu (Bolton) and Joseph Yobo (Everton) a lot of credit, as they have done a great job in assisting Enyeama.
What I do fear is Nigeria's killer strike force in Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Everton), Obafemi Martins (Wolfsburg), and Nwankwo Kanu (Portsmouth). Kanu didn't play a minute so far, but I would not be surprised if Manager Lars Lagerback decides to go with a 3-4-3 formation to utilize the star 3 forwards upfront, while using the rest of the squad to heavy up in their weakened defense, and go with a conservative approach. But if any of the 3 forwards are able to run loose in counter-attack situations (or make the best of defensive lapses) and penetrate into the box, they could easily come out celebrating, as all of them have amazing speed, accuracy and individual skills. And O-Martins' celebration back-flips will hurt like urine on a bee sting. (Actually, does it sting? I don't know... it sounds bad, but can't be as bad as alcohol on a cut...)
Everyone wants to bring good news for their home country that's struggling with domestic issues; Greece with their recent economic crisis, and South Korea with the tension with the North. As for Nigeria, it has long suffered political and economic turmoil, and they recently lost their president, while their newly succeeded leader Goodluck Jonathan is facing much uncertainties. Yes, Goodluck is his real name.
Since good and happy news rarely come out of politics and the economy, it's only natural that people would invest so much love and emotion in supporting their football team, while losing so much sleep during the World Cups. It's too bad only two nations advance through to the knockout stage, but I guess we knew the rules coming in.
Argentina advances with:
(A) Win or tie versus Greece
(B) South Korea tie/loss versus Nigeria
(C) Loss as long as both South Korea and Greece do not make up tiebreakers
South Korea advances with:
(A) Win versus Nigeria and Greece does not either (1) win by greater margin, or (2) win by same margin and score 2-plus goals
(B) Tie and Greece tie/loss
Greece advances with:(A) Win versus Argentina and South Korea tie/loss
(B) Win by greater margin than South Korea
(C) Win by same margin as South Korea and score 2+ more goals
(D) Tie and South Korea loss
(E) Win by 3-plus goals
Nigeria advances with:
(A) Win versus South Korea and Argentina win
Hopfully, my next post will be a happy one...
Thanks for reading,
As always, feel free to leave your thoughts. Please be respectful, but do have fun!
"Having lost the first two group matches, Nigeria has surely been eliminated (unless they beat Korea by 3 or more goals, and Greece loses)"
Does Nigeria really have to get a difference of 3 goals to qualify? Because I did the math and it seemed like winning by whatever margin, with Greece losing, would mean they make it through no matter what.
If Nigeria wins by 1-0 tomorrow, and Greece loses 1-0, then Nigeria, Greece, and S. Korea will all have 3 points. But Nigeria would have a goal difference of -1, while S. Korea will have a goal difference of -2 and Greece also -2, so Nigeria would make it through I think...
Posted by Albert on 06/21/2010
Err, sorry. Nigeria simply need to beat Korea and have Argentina beat Greece, then Nigeria would advance because of a better goal differential.
Posted by Sal on 06/22/2010
Re: N Korea v. Portugal
Whether or not you support North Korean football, the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning and found out the score was concern for the N. Korean players. Please pray for their safety upon their return to their country.
Posted by Bradly on 06/22/2010
Just a quick (and minor) correction to your article Daniel. In regards to the French leagues, the reasdon you see a lot of African players there is not due to cheap labour. They are actually French citizens, the majority of them having been born in France to immigrant families. Many are even second generation Frenchmen. However, the reason they play for countries like Senegal, Algeria or Mali is twofold:
1. They aren't good enough for the French team, which is pretty tough to get into, considering how many French players there are in the top leagues in Europe.
2. Their "home" countries' immigration laws allows them to have a passport as long as they have a great-grandparent from there. The French system (for a rare show of political correctness) allows them to maintain dual citizenship.
The easiest analogy for North African and West African Frenchmen is Mexican-Americans.
Posted by Albert on 06/22/2010
You are incorrect in stating that Nigeria need to beat Korea by three goals. They simple need to beat Korea (1-0 would suffice) and have Argentina beat Greece, as they will have the best goal differential out of all the teams with three points.
Posted by anonymous on 06/22/2010
Actually, Nigeria has a good chance as long as they can beat Korea. If they do, then their goal difference will be at least -1, whereas Korea will be at most -2. Of course, they will also need Greece to lose to Argentina, in which case Greece will also be at most -2 GD. And, in my opinion, I think it very likely that Greece will lose to Argentina.
So, in short, Nigeria needs to beat Korea and needs Argentina to beat Greece (which I find very probable) in order to qualify. Although, being born in Japan, I will root for the Koreans.
Posted by Dan from the korea blog on 06/22/2010
I apologize on the mess-up on the goal difference fact. I blame the vuvuzelas.
writing in a hurry + lack of sleep = no good
Posted by Matthew Park on 06/22/2010
It is simple. We need a win. Well, technically we don't need a win, but I see it that way. If we win, then we deserve the spot in the Round of 16. Anything less, then I will feel that we got lucky.
Posted by Chris on 06/22/2010
My friend,i have to say that regardless of the result in the match vsNigeria.I can say team Korea Rep.should feel winners.The fact of making it to every WC since Mexico '86(counting an early appearance in 1954) and keep trying i think is remarkable.I come from Peru where our team,once was among the football powerhouses in south america,but after poor management,lack of ambition,leadership,scandals,eventually fell to rising stars coming from other latin nations.But on my point of view,i see we do share the same uniform kit colors with korea(red&white,except blue?.well maybe that color not,but the rest is okay with me).But more importantly I think the reason why i do cheer for Korea is the endurance and fight you guys always do on every game and you always did over the last two decades in professional football i think is of admiration.And i do recall the matches with Spain and Germany in USA'94,this is how you pave the way to win.So,Dont be sad,cheer up!:-)Come on Korea,u can make it!
Posted by Don on 06/22/2010
Another possible scenerio is both matches end in tie in which case Korea is through to second round. Nigeria will get one point, both Greece and Korea will end with 4 points. GD between the two countries will remain same but Korea will be through due to scoring more goals overall.
Posted by sam on 06/22/2010
We asians are too good at math! Analyzing different scenarios, calculating probabilities, hoping for "if this, then that."
Korea has to play their game, period! The talent, the dicipline and the attitude is there, and now, the priority should be to re-group, learn from past mistakes and virtues, and orderly play a respectable adversary as is Nigeria, with passion, joy and faith. The same way the Eagles have players to fear for, Korea has a squad envied by many!
Using the computers at this point is the worst thing Koreans can do, in my humble opinion. The players should love and enjoy the game, caress that Jabulani ball, and squeeze it inside that net! (in the opponents goal, that is!)
Korea (and Japan) are in a position to keep changing the Asian football history! Lets support them with all our hearts and face the future with pride happiness!
Lets go Korea!
Posted by Joe on 06/22/2010
Screw it. Let's ATTACK and WIN big. None of this draw permutation nonsense. If we can't beat a disjointed Nigerian squad w/o John Obi Mikel and featuring as its starters, such footballers like Danny Shittu (5th pick CB for the Wanderers) and Kanu (Isn't he really 42 yrs old?) then we don't deserve to progress to the knockout stages. I hope Park Chu Young and Ki Sung Yong both score today so they can gain confidence going forward. Let's show them true Korean pride and spirit with free flowing football, hard work, perserverance and team unity. Let's show them we are a nation of true Warriors, always striving to progress and succeed!
Posted by Steve on 06/22/2010
I'm going crazy at work due to anticipation. Surely, I can't be the only one eh? I expect Park Chu-Yong and Ki Sunng-Yong to get on the score sheet. 2 nil to South Korea Win!!
Posted by Tom on 06/22/2010
We have to win this game; otherwise, we dont deserve to go to the knockout stages. I, like steve, is going crazy at work with anticipation.
Posted by Seung Han on 06/22/2010
ON TO THE NEXT ROUND!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by haterplayer on 06/22/2010
Would like to see Yeom and Kim Jungwoo to never see the pitch again. Yeom provides little firepower...jungwoo turns the ball over every time he touches it...if korea can firm up the back line and add some more firepower in the middle, they'll be fine vs uruguay
Posted by Dan H. on 06/22/2010
Wow, they barely pulled this one of clearly Nigeria had some bad juju going on because they had 2-3 shots on goal that should have definitely made it in. If ROK plays like this next game its game over. They defense needs to step it up and passing needs to be on point. They gave away so many passes the were almost converted into goals. If it were any other team they were have been goals for sure. Also I don't know what the coach see's in the new goalie decision. But I don't think he has show much more effort than Lee Woon Jae and has not been spectacular at saving much. Just gotten lucky people didn't kick the ball right.
Posted by D.H. on 06/23/2010
While I am ecstatic about the win and our advancing to the knock out stage, I was very disappointed with our lackadaisical defense today. We should have lost this one, 4-2. Our defense took unnecessary chances in front of our goal time and time again, and gave Nigeria good looks to convert. I hope that we can address these issues before our next game, just to give ourselves a fighting chance against Uruguay.
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Daniel Cho is a contributing writer for ESPN Soccernet and covered South Korea during the 2006 World Cup. He is back for more, and hopes there will be better results to write about this time around. He is also a musician who has worked with Coldplay, Regina Spektor and Katy Perry.