Spain: Casillas; Puyol, Hierro, Nadal, Juanfran;
Iván Helguera (Xavi 93'), Baraja; Joaquín, Valerón (Luis
Enrique 80'), De Pedro (Mendieta 70'); Morientes. 4-2-3-1.
South Korea: Lee Woon Jae; Choi Jin Cheul, Kim Tae Young (Hwang Sun Hong 90'), Hong Myung Bo; Lee Young Pyo; Kim Nam Il (Lee Eul Yong 32'), Yoo Sang Chul (Lee Chun Soo 60'), Song Chong Gug; Park Ji Sung; Seol Ki Hyeon, Ahn Jung Hwan. 4-3-1-2.
Well, that's it. Another penalty shoot out, but not so lucky this time and we are out of the competition. Who would have thought we would lose to South Korea? Alright they are the hosts, but they have not got any big name stars to mention. Some funny refereeing decisions though, especially by the two linesmen who rule against us time and time again, but even so we could have done better.
South Korea is a friendly place, and we make some new local chums in the week building up to the match. We go with them to Seoul, where you can buy anything you want, and always the genuine article according to the vendors. I'm not so sure, but Goran buys some authentic Ray-Bum sunglasses, a Lacoste sports shirt with the crocodile pointing the other way (it's for left handers, the salesman tells him), and a couple of CDs by the Rolling Beatles. The best part though is visit to the Ki Seng house, a place where you are hand fed by the traditionally dressed waitresses and everything ends up in a hearty sing-song. The last I remember is drinking a strong yellow-coloured local drink to the tune of 'Viva España', which everybody here knows the words to!
It takes us two days to throw off the hangover, but we make it to Gwangju just in time for the match. We have a hard time finding the Spanish supporters (both of them), and although we listen for the drum of Manolo el Bombo it is no use. It seems everybody in Korea goes to the football match with a percussion instrument of some sort. A frightening atmosphere, although the pitch is some way from the supporters so maybe our boys will not be so intimidated.
Out with the team sheets, and our worst fears are realised, there is no Raúl. He has not recovered from a groin strain, and with Diego Tristán suffering a relapse we line up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Helguera and Valerón playing further forward and Nadal coming in to the back four. The good news is that young Joaquín is in the side, and Camacho is obviously going to play him and De Pedro wide to try and take advantage of Spain's height. Height! This is a bit of a novelty for us as most nations are taller than the average Spanish, but at last we meet someone smaller, and we have to make hay while the iron's hot (the English language does have some strange expressions, doesn't it?).
The other change is at left back, where Romero, who is a real defender, comes in for Juanfran, who is actually the team's barber. Certainly Camacho likes to give everyone a game, and he would probably have played the bus driver at centre forward if he wasn't a Korean. And talking of the Koreans, there is a surprise too in their line up. Batman is playing in midfield. He must have been nationalized quickly, we think, but no, it's just Kim Tae Young who is wearing a mask as he broke his nose in a clash with Italy's Vieri in the last game.
And so the game gets under way. With the crowd reaching boiling point and all the doubts about the referees we really need to score quickly, but nothing much happens until around the half hour mark when Lee Woon Jae makes a good high save from Morientes' header. Now we are getting the ball in the air, and our captain Hierro comes up for a couple of corners and heads just over both times. The Ironman is also doing well in defence, cutting out Ahn Jung Hwan earlier on, and is putting in a great performance in what may be his last match for Spain having announced his international retirement after the World Cup.
Joaquín is also having a blinder, cutting through the defence like there was no tomorrow, and if his left leg was not made of wood with door stoppers on the bottom we would already be in front. Korea's only answer is to foul him, and we are getting some dangerous free kicks near the area. Five minutes into the second half we get another, and Baraja goes up for it with Kim Tae Young and it's in the back of the net. But there was whistle just after the kick was taken, and Egyptian referee Mr. El Ghandour has given a foul by Helguera on a defender. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but it is really not too clear.
But now South Korea are getting back in the game and they nearly score, Puyol throwing himself forward to block substitute Lee Chun Soo's shot and then Casillas making a reaction save from Park Ji Sung on the rebound. Camacho makes two changes, bringing on Mendieta and then Luis Enrique, two players he has obviously reserved in case things get sticky and the game heads towards penalties. Shrewd move, but this time Mendieta is disappointing, his lack of match practise in Italy showing through as he sends a couple of passes off the mark.
With two minutes to go to full time Joaquín is brought down in the box but the referee waves play on. And so the game goes into extra time and the sudden death golden goal. Not again, our nerves are bad enough after the last time! But three minutes into the extra period and Joaquín rounds his man on the right, in comes the cross and Morientes heads it wide of Lee. We all leap in the air, but wait, the linesman has his flag up saying the ball went out of play. It can't be true, the ball did not cross the line, but the goal has been disallowed and the game goes on.
Helguera is limping and can't go on. But Camacho has left one change this time as he lost Albelda late the last game with twisted testicles (my eyes are still watering from the thought), and on comes Xavi in his place. Spain get free again, and Morientes sends a lifted shot agonisingly against the post, Mendieta picking up the rebound but trying a shot instead of passing inside.
Then a break away and Morientes sends Luis Enrique away. He only has the keeper to beat, but incredibly the other linesman has his flag up for offside. But he was at least a yard onside! Then it happens again, this time to Mendieta on the left wing. What is happening here?
Our Korean friends look embarrassed and say it's probably due to the 'kimilbi'. We imagine a heat haze or something which distorts the linesmen's vision, but no, a 'kimilbi', is a slush fund which many Korean companies have for making certain 'confidential' payments, and they suggest that the lowly paid officials may have been on the receiving end. Surely not, this is the World Cup, but reports have already appeared in the Italian press suggesting that something strange is happening, and even the Spanish referees don't make this many mistakes, not all in favour of the same team anyway.
We prefer not to think of it, but anyway the thirty minutes extra time runs out and for the second game in a row it's a penalty shoot out. Santo Iker (the patron saint of goalkeepers) steps up, and surely he will save one or two. But the Korean gods are stronger, and although he gets down well to the first penalty from Hwang Sun Hong, the ball carries into the net. The next six shots go in, Hierro, Park Ji Sung, Baraja, Seol Ki Hyeon, Xavi and Ahn Jung Hwan. Next is Joaquín, who ended the game hardly able to walk. He tells Camacho he is ok, but he looks a bit nervous ... he stops in his run up, a dummy but the keeper comes off his line (surely not allowed ref?) and the kick is saved. Bad news, and Korean captain Hong Myung Bo whacks the next kick home to make it 5-3. Mendieta was probably saved to last, but he doesn't get a chance as Korea have won already and the ground erupts in a sea of red.
And so sensation, scandal, call it what you will. South Korea will play the semi-final game against Germany or USA, and Spain are checking the Iberia timetables to find the next flight to Madrid. It could also be the end of the road for some, with Hierro, Luis Enrique and Nadal all announcing that this was (probably) their last game for Spain. We too must begin the long hike back to Spain, although Goran won't be leaving just yet. He has got himself a job in the Ki Seng house washing dishes. "The money's not good" he tells me, "but it was all I could afford". I expect he will be back in time though for the start of the Euro 2004 qualifiers in September. Bye for now everyone, and happy holidays!