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Spain Remembers the Pain

Soccer: In 1994 World Cup, the Spaniards lost a 2-0 lead in the last five minutes and were tied by the South Koreans.

June 21, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ULSAN, South Korea — When Spain plays South Korea in the quarterfinals Saturday in Gwangju, South Korea, at least three Spanish players will recall the last time the teams met in the World Cup.

That was at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas during the USA '94 tournament, when Luis Enrique, Miguel Angel Nadal, Fernando Hierro and the rest of the Spanish team were caught by surprise as the Koreans came from two goals down to tie the score, 2-2, in the final five minutes.

"It was incredibly hot that day in Dallas," Luis Enrique said. "I've never played in conditions like that. I don't know what sort of physical preparation South Korea had, but they were flying."

That remark, entirely innocent in intent, took on new meaning Thursday when reporters began seeking the reasons behind South Korea's remarkable fitness and stamina. The notion inevitably surfaced that drugs might be involved.

"We work very hard," Coach Guus Hiddink responded. "You can't improve players' speed with medication."

Perhaps it can be done by more unconventional means, however.

South Korea team doctor Kim Hyon-Chul told the Dong-A-Ilbo newspaper that the players have been taking pills made from carp and mullet, as well as medicinal herbs and steamed ginseng, three times a day since March to increase their stamina.

Luis Enrique is concerned not only by the Koreans' physical condition, however, but their other qualities.

"Their strong running is the most obvious thing," he said, "but technically they are at a very high level as well. With a European coach, they have improved in tactical terms, and physically they look to be in the same shape as eight years ago."

The Spanish camp is troubled by the idea that its top striker, Raul, might not be available for the game because of a groin strain suffered in the game against Ireland. The injury has prevented him from training this week

"Raul is important for us when he plays but isn't when he doesn't," Spain Coach Jose Antonio Camacho said in an unusual turn of phrase.

Much will depend on how Spain responds to South Korea's all-out, never-give-up style of play.

Hiddink, who has injury worries of his own, said that approach is unlikely to change with a berth in the semifinals at stake.

"I want them to take the initiative," he said of his players, "and then we'll see at the end. So far, it has brought us good results."

Like teammate Luis Enrique, Spanish midfielder Gaizka Mendieta enters the match with a wary attitude.

"If you look at the names and the record books, then we are favorites," he said. "But there are always surprises at a World Cup."

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