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Italy Has a Host of Woes

Round of 16: South Korea knocks out one of favorites, 2-1, on 'golden goal' after tying score in the 88th minute.

June 19, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEOUL — The World Cup of surprises produced another sensational upset Tuesday night, and this one sent an entire nation into a frenzy of celebration.

South Korea, "The Land of Morning Calm," was anything but in the early hours today as millions of chanting, drum-beating, horn-honking, flag-waving, firework-exploding, "Be the Reds" T-shirt-wearing fans took to the streets in cities all across the country.

The reason?

A simple soccer score: South Korea 2, Italy 1.

In one of the most dramatic games of Asia's first World Cup and one of the most startling upsets in international soccer history, the co-host ousted the three-time world champion under the most improbable of circumstances to advance to the quarterfinals.

South Korea, inspired by Dutch Coach Guus Hiddink and featuring a team of players who absolutely refused to give up, was less than two minutes away from elimination when it turned the game upside down.

A dreadful defensive blunder by Christian Panucci in the 88th minute was the direct cause of the Italians' downfall. The "Azzurri" might never be the same.

On the other hand, Seol Ki-Hyeon, who scored the tying goal, and Ahn Jung-Hwan, who headed home the game-winning "golden goal" 27 minutes into sudden-death overtime, have become instant idols.

The victory, achieved in front of the massed red ranks of 38,588 fans at sold-out Daejeon World Cup Stadium, and an estimated 90,000 more watching on a giant screen in a park outside the stadium, ranks as the single-greatest sporting achievement in the nation's history.

Regardless of what happens from here on out, this World Cup is guaranteed to be remembered as a huge success for South Korea and its people.

"It is a tremendous, tremendous achievement for Korean football," said Hiddink, who coached the Netherlands to the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup before being lured to South Korea to weave some magic here. "We have beaten one of the superpowers of football."

Hiddink already was a national hero even before this game. "Hiddink for President" banners decorated the stands. The government has offered to make him South Korea's first honorary citizen, and the South Korean soccer federation has given him $1 million simply for getting its team into the second round.

What his latest achievement will bring him is anyone's guess. What it did bring him immediately was a telephone call from President Kim Dae-Jung, who reportedly told Hiddink that "the country and I are very proud of you."

What the result also brought him was a quarterfinal date with what will surely be a very nervous Spain in Gwangju on Saturday afternoon.

Things did not always go South Korea's way Tuesday night, however. There was, for instance, the missed penalty kick by eventual hero Ahn in the fourth minute, when his shot was saved by goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who made several fine stops during regulation and overtime to thwart the Koreans.

Italy seemed unperturbed by the atmosphere in the stadium, which South Korea's "Red Devils" fans had draped with banners that read: "Welcome to Azzurri's Tomb" and "The Gates of Hell Await."

It seemed the evening might go the Italians' way when Christian Vieri rose to head a corner kick powerfully into the back of the Korean net in the 18th minute.

It was Vieri's fourth goal of the tournament and ninth overall in World Cup play, tying him for the all-time Italian record with Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio.

After gaining the lead, Italy Coach Giovanni Trapattoni's troops settled down to hold the fort. They succeeded until the 88th minute, when Panucci failed to control the ball and watched in horror as Seol sneaked in to steal it from him before angling a shot into the lower right corner of the net, beyond Buffon's reach.

The goal produced an explosion of joy in the stands, where the fans also held aloft signs that read: "Again 1966," a reference to North Korea's famous victory over Italy in the 1966 World Cup in England.

Trapattoni was livid after the game because of the red card ejection of influential playmaker Francesco Totti, who was tossed out in the 103rd minute by referee Byron Moreno of Ecuador after diving in the box in an effort to draw a penalty kick.

"I don't understand why my player was dismissed," Trapattoni said. "There were some bizarre decisions in some situations."

There also was controversy over an Italian goal that was nullified in overtime because of an offsides call, which appeared in replays to have been a mistake.

That said, Trapattoni was gracious toward the winners, even though his team had joined Argentina, France and Portugal among the game's giants to be ousted from the World Cup.

"They [the South Koreans] played with a lot of heart," he said. "It was a match full of emotion, a beautiful match, but Italy should have won."

It didn't and South Korea is in the final eight.

"The dream is going on," Hiddink said. "Two or three months ago, I wouldn't have thought it possible."

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