Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 32-Guus Hiddink and the Fighting South Koreans (2002)

South Korea team at World Cup 2010

Football, much like the state of the South Korean economy and national pride, rose in the fifties from out of nowhere and thanks to hard work. They won the first two Asian Cups and qualified for the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland where they were roundly flogged and are up there with Zaire in 1974 as the worst team to appear in a World Cup. It would be 32 years before they would frequent the World Cup again and haven’t missed out on a tournament since which is something Australia can hopefully aim for.

The trouble was up until the 2002 World Cup they hadn’t won a game either. There were the famous draws with Spain at USA ’94 and with Belgium at France ’98 but they hadn’t really set the World Cup on fire and hadn’t even won a match in the finals. 2002 saw both South Korea and their neighbours Japan host the tournament and big guns were needed to give the Koreans a bit of oomph. Coach Huh Jung-Moo was shown the door in late 2000 and no expense was spared to bring in everyone’s lovable mercenary Guus Hiddink to try and make South Korea a competitive unit on home soil.

With no Asian Cup to worry about Guus used the friendlies and minor regional tournament to hone and craft his South Korean side with an emphasis on the players in the local leagues and not being solely reliant on the plebs playing in Europe in limited capacities. Even with Guus in control and a couple of decent results behind them (including a win over champions France) many expected South Korea to be the first host to not make it out of the first round. They were in the shadow of Japan with their flash French boss in Phillipe Troussier with many thinking that they would be the pony to bet on, wrong…wrong…wrong.


In the first match in front of a fanatical crowd in a sea of red South Korean completely ran a poor Poland off the pitch. Their physical sharpness, expert tactics drilled into them – be it Hiddink or the extra man in the stands – saw them win 2-0; the 33 year old Hwang Sun-Hong scoring his 50th goal for Korea with a sweet volley and Yoo Sang-Chul taking advantage of the laziness from the Poles either side of half time. This was the first ever win in the World Cup for South Korea with massive celebrations around the country and this was only the first round.

In the second match they would be pitted against the Americans in the afternoon sunshine in Daegu. This match proved to be a harder contest than the Poland rout with the Americans in terrific form (they would make the quarter finals). After chasing shadows in the first part of the first half the US struck on 24 minutes when Travis Bickle lookalike Clint Mathis collected a pass from John O’Brien brilliantly and then nailed the shot past the keeper.

The Koreans rallied and searched for an equaliser with much gusto and with half time looming they were awarded a penalty for their efforts when Jeff Agoos made a clumsy challenge on Hwang Sun-Hong. The penalty was saved brilliantly by Brad Friedel who went on to repel attack after attack from the Koreans in the second before they finally equalized thanks to a glancing header by Ahn Jung-Hwan in the 78th minute. His goal celebration (and that of his teammates) was a mock speed skating routine that was a tribute to Kin Dong-Sung who was leading a gold medal race at the Winter Olympics earlier that year only to crash on the last lap. 1-1 it finished and Korea all but through.

You would say they were completely through but in the last match they would have to come up against one of the pre-tournament favourites in Portugal with a draw needed. Portugal had been fantastic at Euro 2000 and featured some brilliant talent including Figo, Pauleta and Abel Xavier who looked like that snow monster from Hoth in the Empire Strikes Back at times with his peroxide facial hair. Like many of the favourites at Japorea ’02 though they looked sluggish, tired and were obviously feeling the effects of a long European season. South Korea played them off the pitch (with help from the ref) but Portugal didn’t really do themselves any favours by kicking lumps out of anything in a red shirt:  Joao Pinto going into Park Ji-Sung from behind with a crude tackle saw himself red carded after manhandling the ref.

With the USA losing to Poland it meant that a draw would do for both sides but South Korea continued to attack with two big chances.  But the Portugese weren’t done with the thuggery yet, Beto sent off for a second yellow on 65 minutes. South Korea finally got their deserved goal some five minutes later when Park Ji-Sung collected a pass, beat a defender and slammed the shot home…very Bergkamp v Argentina circa 1998. The Portuguese had one big chance with Conceicao hitting the post and having a shot well saved but 1-0 it stayed and South Korea were in to the unknown, the second round.


Up against the South Koreans in the second round would be Gionvanni Trapattoni’s Italian side who were lucky to be in the second round after relying on Ecuador to do away with Croatia. By now the fan fever for ‘The Red Devils’ had reached a massive scale. Packed out city centres were awash with red as Koreans both young and old brought the country to a standstill to watch the side. It was looking good after only 4 minutes in the match when Seol Ki-Hyeon was taken out by Christian Panucci and a penalty was given, unfortunately the always brilliant Buffon guessed the right way and put the ball around the post.

This is the only time in the history of the World Cup a country had missed two penalties in the same tournament. Italy went ahead some 10 minutes after the penalty save when the powerful Sydney raised striker Christian Vieri met a short corner from Totti to head the ball in. Italy featured a limp front two of Totti and Del Piero and sat back on their makeshift defence (both Nesta and Cannavarro were out) as Korea tried to find a way past the royal blue wall. Ahn Jung-Hwan was a livewire up front for the home side and constantly gave the Italians kittens but, as the Italians normally do, they held firm.

With only two minutes to go Italy conceded a costly equaliser, the first shot on target in the second half, when Panucci again played class dunce by having his poor clearance fall straight to Seol Ki-Hyeon who put the ball past the keeper, pandemonium all over the country and in the stadium..and really for anyone who wanted to see Italy go out. Into extra time the game went (following a glaring miss by Vieri with seconds to go in regular time) with Italy again sitting back and trying to strangle any life out of the game with the Koreans tiring.

Italy had a reason to defend when Totti was sent off for a second yellow, the offence? Diving. God works in mysterious ways. Yet with Italy building a wall the Koreans still had one more chance left and it was a wonderful moment. With seconds ticking down Lee Young-Pyo crossed to the ball to the far post with the penalty area crowded Ah Jung-Hwan climbed above a static Paulo Maldini (playing central defence) and headed the ball past Buffon,,,,goal!….golden goal!…all over!…good night Italy!…amazing scenes. The South Koreans had unbelievably repeated what their North Korean ‘brothers’ had done in 1966 and knocked the Italians out to make the quarter finals,

The South Koreans took to the streets in their literal millions to party. The Italians took the loss well by complaining about the sending off, the disallowed goal (Tomassi had a golden goal ticked off for offside which might have been a mistake) and how they were robbed by the ref. To be honest some of the calls were very 50-50 and conspiracy theories did abound. Italian club Perguia also sacked Ahn Jung-Hwan for scoring the golden goal but did he really care? Not when there was a quarter final with Spain to focus on.


The Spanish had squeezed past a spirited Roy Keane-less Irish side in the second round on penalties and featured some half fit and generally knackered stars. The game lacked the end to end action of the previous South Korean games with Spain again sitting back and soaking up the pressure in an uneventful first half. Baraja scored after 50 minutes but his goal was disallowed for a push in the back of a Korean defender in what was a long line of 50-50 calls going the Koreans way. Conspiracy? Never. In extra time the game got some form of a life and with it another dodgy ref call when Morientes had a goal struck off because the ball had allegedly gone out when crossed over.

Morientes again had a chance when his shot hit the Korean upright and out again, no luck for the Spanish with Raul ‘rested’ on the sidelines and playing another 120 minute match. To penalties it went with Hwang, Hierro, Park, Baraja, Seol, Xavi and Ahn scoring. A clearly half fit Joaquin shot low and to the right but the legendary and quite possibly mad keeper Lee Woon-Jae got down well to save, more madness in the stands and around South Korea.

33 year old veteran sweeper Hong Myung-Bo was next up in the shootout and in a Aloisi like moment scored his penalty to send South Korea through to the semi finals, an amazing achievement with Martin Tyler on SBS at the time even sounding like he couldn’t quite believe what had happening before him. The Spanish weren’t happy with some of the decisions by the ref in what was to be legendary Real Madrid defender Hierro’s last ever game for Spain. Helguera in the end had to be restrained from belting the African ref such was his anger but Spain defended the whole game, never risked their star Raul and paid the price.


Onwards and upwards to the semi finals South Korea went, the first ever Asian side to get this far with their co-hosts and rivals Japan left back in the dust where they had been eliminated by Turkey in the second round. Against a German side that had more and more confidence with every boring 1-0 win they had it would be a showdown to see who would be in the big one. 7 million Koreans took the streets of cities around the country to watch the match on big screens in what was to be an absorbing contest.

South Korea was restricted to one shot in the first half that was brilliantly saved by keeper of the tournament Oli Kahn, the Germans kept quiet by a tough South Korean defence. In the second half Hiddink brought on two players including Ahn Jung-Hwan to try and unlock the German defence but they held firm with the exception of one moment halfway through the half when Lee Chun-Soo made a darting run towards the area only for Michael Ballack to hack him down and earn the booking that would keep him out of the final.

Ballack held his nerve and scored the winner thanks to excellent lead up play to make it 1-0 and that’s where it stayed with the luck of the Koreans running out along with their ability to score late goals. The Koreans were praised the world over for their efforts to get as far as they did and had shocked the world with a third placed play-off to come. Fans cried openly in the streets and dabbed their teary eyes with official world cup merhandise at the realisation they would not be in the final though.



Against a Turkish side that had done equally as well to get as far as it did South Korea held a big party with both sides turning on the entertainment. The much maligned striker Hakan Sukur put the Turks ahead virtually straight from kick off but only 8 minutes later it was 1-1, Lee Eul-Yong scoring. It was 3 goals in only 13 minutes when Sukur again decided to pull his finger out and fed Mansiz who scored, Mansiz again scored on the half hour to make it 3-1. With the Mexican wave going around the ground and the game running out of time South Korea gave the crowd a bit of hope for a consolation prize with a late deflected goal through Son Cong-Chung but all too late.

The match finished 3-2 with Turkish and Korean players arm in arm as they applauded the fans to a deafening roar, a thank you to two countries that were never expected to even make the second round let alone the semi finals. During the lap of honour Hiddink was given a massive ovation and was thrown in to the air by his players with banners such as ‘Hiddink for president’ in orange hung in the stands. Hiddink would be given honourary Korean citizenship but that would not be enough to keep him in Asia with a return home to Holland and a coaching role with PSV already in the pipeline.

Considering how often they had just been there for show at previous World Cups South Korea’s efforts at Japan/South Korea 2002 were nothing short of amazing. The hard work put in by Hiddink and fellow former Aussie boss Pim Verbeek paid off with the side super fit, running hard and playing to their strengths. South Korea in 2002 was a memorable moment for the underdog, that’s for sure and an inspiration to those of us born to a country that is never seen as a heavyweight.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.


  1. Great story Dennis. Loved the Japorea tag.
    All likely entrants to the wondrous David Zampatti Rio tipping comp (first prize is dinner with David and Hayden Ballantyne) should note that SBS1 starts a nightly program from 6pm Sunday profiling the journey of all 32 qualifiers.
    Should be compelling viewing (if you can tear yourself away from St Kilda and the Gold Coast).

  2. Dr Rocket says

    Thanks for bringing back the memories Dennis.

    I recall being in the Taejon Stadium that night watching the USA and Poland – and the entire stadium was chanting, “Tae Han Min Kuk” (The Republic of Korea) – the Korean team were playing in Seoul. Amazing. The cheers for Korean goals were enormous and completely unrelated to the match in Taejon…

    It was euphoric. As was being in Korea at that time.

    As it was pointed out, the Japanese hosted the World Cup, the Koreans lived it.

  3. Dennis Gedling says

    “As it was pointed out, the Japanese hosted the World Cup, the Koreans lived it.”

    That’s a fantastic term. The Koreans captured the hearts and minds of the average punter in Australia without a team to follow in 2002. It’s unfortunate the allegations of the favourable calls in some games are talked about still.

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