Asians & Africans


THE first World Cup ever held in Asia has been notable for the achievements of Asians and Africans not least at the expense of Europeans. South Korea, the hosts, had never won a game in the World Cup finals, having tried on and off since a traumatising beginning at the Swiss tournament of 1954. But they succeeded in getting the better of Poland, Portugal and Italy, the latter two unquestionably among the initial favourites for the tournament. Japan, the co-hosts, eventually went down somewhat disappointingly to Poland but in the meantime they had distinguished themselves by beating Russia and in their opening game had at least deserved their draw against Belgium.

Senegal, whom nobody had been inclined to rate highly till they proved such a splendid surprise in the African Nations Cup earlier in the year, opened the tournament with their sensational win over the holders France in Seoul, drew with Denmark and Uruguay and subsequently knocked out the Swedes. True Cameroon, who had sparkled in the 1990 tournament before going out somewhat unluckily in Naples to England in the quarter-final, having won in the opener against the holders Argentina as sensationaly as would Senegal on the present occasion, were something of a disappointment vanishing after the first round. But this as they rightly complained, was at least in part thanks to the characteristic, seemingly inevitable, blunderings of their inept officials, as a result of which, and a wrangle over money - yes, yet again - they had a nightmare of a delayed journey to the tournament and lacked the vital preparation.

Nigeria disappointed too, but here again ructions between officialdom and some players were at least in part responsible. It was particularly sad to see these causing the omission of one of Nigeria's finest players the attacking midfielder Sunday Oliseh while the right winger Finidi George, though he didn't have the most dazzling of seasons in England with Ipswich Town, would surely have been of benefit; he, too, being excluded after coming to a confrontation with the officials.

South Korea's victory over Italy in the second round caused a bitter outburst from an Italian official who accused the Koreans almost specifically at having got at the referee. This was truly a case of the pot calling the kettle black, since I and my Sunday Times colleague Keith Botsford had undertaken a massive investigation in the mid 1970 on the bribery or attempted bribery by Italian clubs of referees in European competition. Behind much of it all was the late, devious Italo Allodi, not only at Inter and then Juventus but also with the Italian national team. No one ever denied our report that in 1968 he got at Herr Dienst, now deceased, referee of the 1966 Cup Final at Wembley in which England took the World title.

In the Olympic Stadium Rome where Italy played Yugoslavia in the 1968 European Nations Cup Final the Italian half back Ferrini blatantly fouled a Yugoslav forward in the box; and got away with it completely. Italy won the replayed Final. I agree that some of the refereeing decisions in the Korea-Italy game such as the disallowing of a goal by Italian midfielder Tommassi, the ignoring of a blatant assault by a Korean player in his penalty box, and perhaps the second yellow card for diving which had Francesco Totti sent off (but it did look as if he indeed dived) were controversial. Yet that wasn't why Italy lost.

How good have been the South Koreans? At their best I'd say very good indeed, not least against Poland in their opening game, even if a shockingly lax piece of marking enabled them to set up their opening goal. They should have beaten the USA being well on top in the final stages and missing at the deaths the easiest of point blank opportunities. But luck favoured them against Portugal when their reckless opponents had two players properly sent off yet the Koreans found it so hard to get the winner against nine men. True, when it came it was beautifully taken by the Park Ji-Sing.

And a word of praise here for a player I've so admired ever since early last season I saw him playing up front for Perugia against Lazio; Little Ahn Jung-Hwan. He it was, not demoralised by missing that early penalty against the Italians - and a penalty it surely looked - eventually put in the decisive goal. I thought he looked sharp and effective when he came on as substitute in the first game against Poland when only fine saves by Jerzei Dudek denied him. And of course he scored against the USA then did that cheeky little skater's dance to recall the controversial disqualification of a Korean Olympic speed skater in favour of an American. Yoo Sang Chul could be a dynamic presence in midfield, the experienced central defender-libero Hong Myung-Bo coolly and authoritatively held his defence together.

Senagal devastated the French with clever tactical formation, in which the wonderfully quick and elusive El Diouf, that evening the solitary striker, made mincemeat of heavily ineffective Frenk Leboeuf and set up the winning goal for the powerfully impressive midfielder Papa Bouba Diop, always ready to thunder through for a crack at goal. Well abetted later on when Sedan's Henri Camara came into the team, immensely effective on either wing, scorer of those two memorable goals against the Swedes. Not to forget the strongly left footed Khalilou Fadiga who seemed to shrug off an admitted purloining of a gold necklace from a Korean jeweller. He returned it, and benefited from the charity of the jeweller himself and the Korean authorities who decided not to prosecute. Not that it seemed to worry him a bit before his exoneration happened; he was a key factor in the victory against France, always ready to support E1 Diouf, running tirelessly.

But we have long known what colossal talent is to be found in sub Saharan Africa. The French themselves have used it for years, and even the Poles somewhat cynically fast tracked naturalisation for quick little striker Emmanuel Olisadebe, Nigerian born and a crucial factor in their passage to the Finals. It has always simply been a case of African organisation achieving the merits of the players; something alas which happens far too rarely. But when a coach as remarkable as Senegal's Bruno Metsu, of France, comes along and established such trust and affection among the players, then a team such as this can exploit its talents. Even if one did saw it strangely fall apart in the second half of that 3-3 draw against Uruguay.

Japan displayed the talents of Junichi Inamoto, above all when he was so effective scoring from midfield in the earlier games, a living reproach to Arsenal who seemed to have signed him chiefly to sell shorts in Japan. Plus the clever left sided Shinji Ono who had a good season in Holland with Feyenoord; not to mention Hidetoshi Nakata who did not have a happy season in Italy with Parma, but had this moments in this World Cup not least with a bravely headed goal.

Finally, a word for an African player I've long admired, the midfield motivator of Nigeria Jay Jay Okocha now about to quit Paris Saint Germain. Such a fine ball player, playmaker and when he sees the chance, opportunist scorer. It has been good to see such regional democracy in a World Cup.