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Germany Earns 1-Way Ticket

World Cup: Plodding style wears down entertaining South Korean team in semifinals.

June 26, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEOUL — When it was all over, when the final whistle had sounded and the red sea had departed, Lee Chun-Soo sank to the turf at midfield and stared for several long moments at the grass in front of him.

There was nothing to say, nothing to do, nothing on the scoreboard.

Germany 1, South Korea 0.

The World Cup, a dream image that had floated in front of Lee and the rest of the Korean soccer players like some sporting grail, had vanished in one cruel moment, snatched away by a goal from Michael Ballack.

Germany one, South Korea nothing.

That goal, stabbed home in the 75th minute Tuesday night, cut like a knife through the heart of Lee, his teammates, the 65,625 fans at Seoul World Cup Stadium and an entire nation. It was a fatal wound.

South Korea will not be going to Sunday's World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan.

Germany will, and it will play the winner of today's semifinal in Saitama, Japan, between Brazil and Turkey.

It really shouldn't have ended this way. South Korea was the more adventurous team, the team that was willing to attack all night, the team that made the Germans look slow and stolid by comparison.

But the Koreans could not score. They tried for 90 minutes to find a way to beat German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, but in vain. Kahn has given up one goal at this World Cup. Once Ballack scored, the Germans' third consecutive 1-0 victory was all but sealed.

"In modern football, you should be able to beat opponents with just one goal," defensive midfielder Dietmar Hamann said in a comment that reflected the Germans' desire to put the result before the spectacle.

Good for the Germans, bad for the fans.

No wonder Pele was looking so glum in the stands. This plodding, results-only style of soccer is not for him.

"We were quite clearly the better team," said Germany Coach Rudi Voeller, who won the World Cup as a player in 1990 and has the chance to become only the third person, after Germany's Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil's Mario "Lobo" Zagalo, to also win it as a coach.

And so, while the German players celebrated near him, Lee remained on the ground, contemplating what might have been. South Korea went further in this tournament than anyone had expected, further than any Asian team had gone in a World Cup, but not far enough.

The final whistle signaled the end of more than just a match.

Voeller ran over and embraced his South Korean counterpart, Dutchman Guus Hiddink, whose charisma has captivated a country and whose astute coaching had carried South Korea to the semifinals.

"I don't want to look for any excuses," Hiddink said later, "but you have to be realistic and say they are a little more experienced, and you could see that at the end."

It might have simply been a case of the Koreans finally running out of gas.

"We watched South Korea's matches and realized that they were losing strength with each game," Kahn said. "In contrast, we have been building up momentum."

Korean forward Hwang Sun-Hong admitted as much.

"The Korean team just had not recovered from the last match and in the end we did not have enough energy," he said.

The Korean players stood at midfield for a while, looking at the red-clad fans trudging sadly from the stadium. "Be the Reds" no more. They then walked over to one end of the field, formed a line and bowed to the fans in thanks. To the "Red Devils," their due.

Hiddink was the last one off the field.

"We tried to close them down in the second half, but in general we showed a little too much respect," he said of the three-time world champions.

It was not until Ballack took advantage of the Korean defenders' tiring legs late in the match that Germany finally broke through.

Oliver Neuville sent in a cross from the right wing that slipped between two defenders and found Ballack unmarked. The German striker's first-time shot slammed into the chest of Lee Woon-Jae, South Korea's goalkeeper, but Ballack was in position to smack the rebound into the open net.

Ballack also had scored the only goal when Germany knocked the United States out of the tournament, but he will miss Sunday's championship game.

Four minutes before scoring, Ballack had earned his second yellow card of the round, for bringing down Lee--the striker, not the goalkeeper--on the edge of the German penalty area. Voeller termed it a tactical foul that was unfortunate but necessary.

"If I had not done it, they would have had a man free for a clear run on goal," a tearful Ballack said. "It was my first foul of the game. When you are on one yellow card, you do hold back a little, but that's football.

"It's a very bitter feeling. It was a dream to play in a World Cup final, but that dream has died."

Voeller, a top-level striker himself in his playing days, praised Ballack's action.

"He sacrificed himself for the victory," Voeller said. "He put himself at the service of the team and the whole of Germany, a thing not only myself but the entire country will stand and applaud him for."

Maybe so, but when the final whistle came the crowd's sympathy was more with Lee and his teammates, their own World Cup dream finally at an end.

"We did our best," captain Hong Myung-Bo said. "We are disappointed about the result, but we have no regrets."

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