by STEVE HAN
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup set to kick off today, Team Korea is in Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu to prepare for its first game on Tuesday against the Russians. Unfortunately for the Koreans, the hype and excitement have taken a turn for the worse after they lost both of their preparatory exhibition games to Tunisia and Ghana over the last two weeks.
But let’s do away with the negativity. To help, we present the top five most memorable World Cup moments for Team Korea. So relive these moments, keep calm and get ready to enjoy the show!
1986: Park Chang-sun scores Korea’s first ever World Cup goal
Since making its very first World Cup appearance in 1954 (in which Korea failed to score and give up 16 goals in just two games), it took Korea 32 years to return to the “Big Dance.” In its first game against Argentina, the eventual champions, the Koreans were thoroughly outplayed from the get-go and conceded three goals in the first 18 minutes. But with only about 15 minutes remaining in the game, Park Chang-sun scored a consolation goal from 30 yards out to give his country its first ever goal at the World Cup. Even though losing was a given by that point, the Koreans celebrated Park’s goal as if they had won.
2002: Ahn Jung-hwan’s golden goal eliminates Italy
When South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with Japan, its soccer fans just wished their team win one game to save itself from the embarrassment of becoming the first host nation to get knocked out in the first round. No one could have possibly imagined that Team Korea would go undefeated in the first round, and in the second round, eliminate the heavily favored Italians with the most dramatic finish. Korea’s star forward Ahn Jung-hwan scored the game-ending, walk-off goal in overtime, marking a historic moment which still serves as part of many Korean sports news shows’ intro footage.
2002: Hong Myung-bo knocks out Spain and sends Korea to the semifinals
Still exhausted from its 120-minute game versus the Italians, the Koreans muddled its way through and managed to take the game to the penalty shootout against Spain (albeit with a couple of questionable calls that went against the Spaniards). After Korean goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae blocked Joaquin Sanchez’s penalty, the fate of Korea’s semifinals berth was all on captain Hong Myung-bo’s shoulders — if he netted the penalty, Korea would be in the semifinals. Hong did just that by slotting the ball into the top corner, sending his team to the Final Four of the tournament and his country into jubilation.
2006: Ahn Jung-hwan’s goal completes Korea’s come-from-behind win versus Togo
Ahn Jung-hwan, the catalyst of Korea’s magical run in 2002, was again the inspiration behind his country’s first ever World Cup win on a foreign soil. Korea was playing catch-up against Togo after giving up an early goal in its first game of the 2006 tournament hosted in Germany, but tied the game at 1-1 with a goal from Lee Chun-soo. With less than 20 minutes to go, Ahn rose to the occasion yet again with a turnaround 20-yard shot that gave Korea its first World Cup win away from home. The goal also made Ahn Korea’s all-time goalscorer at the World Cup with three goals (Park Ji-sung tied the record in 2010).
2010: Park Ji-sung completes Korea’s dominant win against Greece
Korean soccer was at its pinnacle in 2002, so 2006 was something of a transitional period for the team. That made the 2010 tournament a swansong for the remaining veterans from the 2002 team (Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo, Kim Nam-il, Cha Du-ri and etc.) as well as a showcase for the group of prospects representing Korea’s most talented generation to date (Lee Chung-yong, Ki Sung-yueng, Jung Sung-ryong, Park Chu-young and etc.). In its first game of the tournament, Korea put on its most dominating performance at the World Cup with a 2-0 win over Greece thanks to goals by Lee Jung-soo and Park Ji-sung, and eventually advanced from group stages for the first time away from home.