Go to Contents Go to Navigation

(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 8)

All News 07:05 December 08, 2022

World Cup exit
Taeguk Warriors fared well, yet much should be done

Eleven more days are left before the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Qatar comes to a grand finale. The remaining eight matches, from the quarterfinals to the finals, will be of the highest quality and most thrilling. However, most Koreans are unlikely to lose sleep watching them. For these "patriotic" fans, the World Cup ended early on Tuesday morning (KST) when Brazil dumped Korea out of the tournament.

The anticlimax notwithstanding, the Korean team deserves praise and encouragement for advancing to the knockout stage for the first time in 12 years. Moreover, the 26-man squad made the accomplishment against the quite unfavorable odds of just 12 percent. Therefore, it is only natural that the entire nation, fed up with the gloomy political, economic, and social news, gave a hero's welcome to the returning players.

Football, or soccer as most Americans call the sport, is often compared to war. Anthropologists say humans have devised sports, including football, to satisfy their unfulfilled hunting and fighting instincts. If these experts are right, the global soccer festival is a quadrennial World War. That may explain why U.S. President Joe Biden clenched his fist to chant "USA" when USMNT edged archenemy Iran 1-0. Likewise, when team Japan advanced to the knockout stage, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said to its coach during a phone call, "Our people gained courage and energy."

The world's most popular sport has also never been free from politics. However, no other tournament was as politicized as this one. The Iranian players did not sing their national anthem in reaction to the brutal crackdown on the anti-government hijab protests back home. Sixteen Australian footballers criticized the host nation's alleged abuses of the human rights of migrant workers on YouTube even before arriving in Doha. Chinese people, who had to watch other countries' players on TV, were astonished to see stadiums packed with people not wearing face masks, launching the blank paper protest.

No other rivalries fit the soccer-and-war analogy better than the one between Korea and Japan. A famous Korean football star once said, "In the Korea-Japan match, you can't even lose the coin toss or rock-paper-scissors." Probably for that reason, Korea has long dominated Japan in soccer. The Taeguk Warriors always display 200 percent of their ability, purely out of spite for their former colonial ruler.

That changed at least a decade ago. Japan's FIFA ranking was 24, four notches above Korea's 28, on Oct. 6. Korea lost three consecutive friendly matches with Japan recently. Although both countries advanced to the round of 16 in Qatar, Japan fared better than Korea by most metrics, including upsets against more formidable opponents, like Germany and Spain as well as scorelines and losses.

Korea relied too much on masked striker Son Heung-min and center-back Kim Min-jae, whose legs were not in a good condition. Japan had no such superstars like the EPL's leading scorer of 2022 or the "monster defender of Naples." However, it had players with far more even abilities. Japan's team manager said, "To do well in a long, tough tournament, you should have two full sets of equally good players."

Objectively speaking, the Japanese players seemed to have better basic skills, including ball control and faster dribbling abilities, than their Korean counterparts, probably thanks to its more organized youth player system compared with Korea's.

The U.S., Canada, and Mexico will co-host the next World Cup four years from now. So Korea should restart right now. Until when should this country emphasize willpower and fighting spirit, hoping for another miracle? Korean attackers have yet to improve their chronic poor finishing, and defenders must not give space too easily to European or Latin American strikers.

What about regaining dominance over Japan as Korean soccer's short-term goal? By growing in a competition of good faith, the two countries will be able to represent Asia once again four years from now ― and do so far better than this year.

Send Feedback
How can we improve?
Thanks for your feedback!