Korea Republic or South Korea are one of the topmost Asian teams in world football today. The first Asian team ever to play in the semi-finals of the World Cup, South Korea has a long history of World Cup football. 2010 was the eighth time Korea Republic qualified for the tournament after becoming the only Asian team to go unbeaten in qualification. Korea Republic rose to footballing power once they won the first two editions of the AFC Asian Cup. Their first major achievement in world football was qualification for the world cup, something they achieved in 1954. Known as the “Red Devils”, South Korea have gained numerous ‘firsts’ for Asian countries at the international level.
WORLD CUP FEVER
The first ever world cup game played by South Korea was at the 1954 FIFA World Cup. Placed in a group with Hungary, West Germany and Turkey, South Korea were outclassed in every game. The first time television showed coverage, the format of the world cup was changed. Instead of Round-Robin games, seeded & unseeded teams would only play against each other.
This controversial move was to allow seeded teams to qualify, thus getting more viewership by playing popular teams. South Korea played Hungary and Turkey, losing 9-nil and 7-nil respectively.
Their next attempt would have to wait 32 years and South Korea would qualify for Mexico 1986. Placed alongside Diego Maradona’s Argentina, Bulgaria and defending champions, Italy, South Korea had no hope of getting through the group. Predictably, they finished bottom of their group but managed to get their first world cup goal and point after drawing 1-1 with Bulgaria. Argentina beat them 3-1 while Italy had a 3-2 win over the South Koreans.
In 1994, the World Cup moved to USA and Korea Republic qualified again. Again, they would be placed in a tough group alongside defending champions, and unified team now, Germany, Spain and lowly South American team, Bolivia.
With their opening game almost over, Korea were trailing Spain by two goals. A flurry of their famous stamina and pace in the last 5 minutes left Spain gasping for breath. 2 goals in 5 minutes saw the Asians almost snatch a win from the European giants. As Germany drew with Spain, Korea managed to get a point off of Bolivia.
Going into the last game, there was a slight possibility that Korea could go through if they could pull off a miracle against Germany. By the time Spain took a 1-goal lead, Germany had hammered 3 past the Koreans. Spain’s qualification seemed assured but Korea Republic fought back with 2 goals in the space of 9 minutes. Korea needed a win to ensure qualification, or a draw alongwith a Spanish loss. None came!
Onto 1998 and South Korea travelled to France with the Netherlands, Mexico and Belgium waiting for them. A 1-3 loss to Mexico was followed by a nil-5 thrashing at the hands of the Dutch. Korea Republic managed to pull out a draw against Belgium, helping Mexico go through despite a draw with the Dutch in their final game.
In 2002, the World Cup moved to their homeland and teams were greeted by a sea of red!
Again, Korea were placed in a tough group with Portugal, USA and Poland. Driven by a passionate crowd that shook the stadium, Korea went on to comprehensively beat Poland 2-nil, getting their first win at the World Cups. Their next match, against USA, ended in a 1-1 draw and going into their final game against Portugal, Korea only needed a draw to ensure qualification.
They not only did enough to qualify, but by beating favourites Portugal, Korea Republic went on to top the group. For the first time, Korea Republic qualified for the knock out stages, in front of their own fans. The fans raised the roof as Korea took on favourites Italy in the Round of 16.
A heavily controversial game saw the match officials disallow two Italian goals, when they were already leading by 1, while heavily siding with the Koreans on freekicks. The officials were heavily criticized after the Koreans used blatant force to bring down the Italians, without any repurcusions. Panelists on Sky Sports, at the end of the game, counted 4 blatant red card offences including a kick to the back of the head of Italian captain, Paolo Maldini, while he was already down in his own penalty area. Having won the game courtest of an Ahn Jung-Hwan Golden Goal, they went onto play Spain in the quarter-finals.
Once again, the game was marred by controversy! Spain had an Ivan Helguera goal disallowed for no apparent reason while a Golden Goal, by Fernando Morientes off of a Juaquin Sanchez cross, was disallowed as the ball was said to have cross over the touchline before the cross was hit. The replay showed that the ball was clearly within the touchline, by more than a foot.
The match went into the penalties and South Korea again emerged winners by 5 goals to 3.
In the semi-finals as the first Asian team to do so, Korea Republic came up against Germany. A Michael Ballack goal separated the two teams and despite more controversial refereeing, Germany emerged winners in the contest. Korea went on to lose 2-3 against Turkey to only manage a fourth placed finish, their best ever.
In 2006, South Korea were placed alongside France, Switzerland and Togo. They beat Togo (2-1) in their first game to go top of the group. However, a draw against France (1-1) and a 0-2 loss to Switzerland meant that they wouldn’t go through to the knockout stages.
In 2010, South Korea won 14 games to sail through the qualification phase without losing a single game. Placed in a group with Argentina, Greece and Nigeria, South Korea were the least favourites to get into the knockout stages. They shocked everyone by beating Greece 2-nil in their first game, before losing 1-4 to a rampant Argentine side. Needing a point from their final game, Korea did enough to grab a 2-2 draw against Nigeria, qualifying for the Round of 16.
Facing Uruguay, South Korea put up a stellar display of attacking football throughout the game. However, two Luis Suarez strikes overpowered the solitary goal by Lee Chung-Yong to knock the Koreans out of the world cup.
AFC ASIAN CUP
South Korea won the first ever AFC Asian Cup contest held in 1956, topping the final round of Round-Robin games ahead of Israel, Hong Kong and South Vietnam. They went on to host the 1960 edition of the tournament, again going on to beat Israel, Taiwan and South Vietnam for the title.
After only managing a third place in 1964, behind Israel and India, South Korea failed to win the title again. They got to second place in 1972, 1980 and 1988, and managed a third-placed finish in 2000 and 2007.