Guus Hiddink and his fiery South Koreans made World Cup history, becoming the first team from Asia to reach the semifinals of the tournament. Up until 2002, the joint host with Japan had not won any of its games in the competition, despite an early debut way back in 1954.
With every plausible effort to make Asia’s first World Cup a memorable one, South Korea, under Hiddink, followed a strict regimen and national players were kept together for a length of time, being exempted from club duties. The rewards were almost immediate and in their first match in front of fanatical home support the Koreans outran the poor Poles 2-0. The second game against U.S. was a little more difficult. A goal down and a penalty wasted, the Koreans kept on attacking. The perseverance paid off as Ahn Jung-hwan equalised with a glancing header with 12 minutes to go. The Portuguese with their golden duo of Luis Figo and Ruis Costa were humbled too, Park Ji-sung scoring the unlikely winner.
Up next were the Italians and the Asian Red Devils won controversially, 2-1, in extra-time. Christian Vieri’s headed strike was cancelled out late by Seol Ki-hyeon and the game went into extra time.
Francesco Totti was soon sent off with a second yellow for diving and then Diamiano Tommasi’s strike was overruled by the referee. The Italians suddenly had genuine reasons to cry foul.
Adding to Italy’s misery, moments before the end of extra time, Ahn Jung-hwan clambered over an unusually static Paolo Maldini and headed in the golden goal past Gianluigi Buffon. So infuriated were the Azzuris that Jung-hwan immediately paid the price, his contract with Serie A side Perugia being annulled.
In the last eight stage, too, the ever underperforming Spaniards saw Ruben Baraja’s 50th minute strike disallowed for infringement, with another dodgy call robbing Fernando Morientes of a golden goal winner. To penalties it went, and here Joaquin Sanchez’s weak shot to the right was saved by Lee Woon-jae. Hong Myung-bo was up next and he scored calmly and semifinal slot was assured. Luck or divine (refereeing) help ran out finally in Japan as Germany ended the run with a Michael Ballack strike.
But the Cafu-led Brazilians had the last laugh, defeating the Germans 2-0 in the final, with Ronaldo netting both the goals.
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