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World Cup Diary


Here we go... Good for us: the commentators on ESPN are Brit. We can give the earplugs a rest.

2... This should be a game of low expectations and bright, positive play: it's the most even match-up the two teams can expect in their group, both will be smashing after three points in order to have a chance at putting on Cinderella's dress and advancing past either France or Switzerland. And in fact Switzerland--dull, low-scoring, slightly haiughty Switzerland--are eminently beatable by enthusiasm alone, even if France, in this group (and despite having a squad of semi-retirees), isn't.

9... Nothing to write Soul about so far. One Togo shot, wide and high. I like Togo's energy, not Korea's sloppiness: Two straight lousy Korea passes that end in Togo's end-zone.

14... And a third lousy Korea dump into the Togo half, sailing long. Togo is building better: waiting for its popportunities, slashing down the field with the ball, then crossing; OK, so the cross wasn't perfect, but it put a scare in Korea's hearts. Possession has been Korean, advantage has been Togo.

18... Togo is now taking a page from Korea's long-sailing kicks. A free kick that ends up in Korea's end zeone, for a Korea goal kick, and a pass-back to the goalie. Almost twenty minutes in, no excitement.

20... Well, this game is not living up to its potential as a free-for-all battle of opportunities. It's been more like a qualifiers' game, each side has been uneven in its own play, out-of-wync within their own ranks, let alone with each other: there is neither a rythm nor a song to this game, except in the stands.

25... Come on now, my fingers are falling asleep. The most excitement so far has been a pair of yellow cards for Togo. The commentators are reverting to talking about the anatomical disposition of Togo in West Africa, and its comparisons, size-wise, to West Virginia. That's just about the weirdest comparison I've ever heard (having lived in West Virginia and sustained the tropical storms and hurricanes that form over Togo only to drench me here in Florida). Look at that: even I'm short of football comments. Togo may be the African capital oif magic. Here, it's the world capital of lethargy.

30... So far in the Woreld Cup the goal-scored average is 2.4 per game, second-lowest of the modern era after the dismal 2.2 performance in Italy in 1990 (where else?). This game is not helping. France 1998: 2.7 goals per game, US 94: 2.7. Korea-Japan 2002: 2.5... but wait! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL TOGO!

31 fANTASTIC GOAL BY mOHAMMED kADER WHO SNEAKED PAST THE MIDFIELD, outran his marker and shot from the edge of the box, a beautiful strike slamming into the back of the net, off the post. Great form, great shot. They're fomenting a new hurricane in Togo...

35... Good, Korea has woken up. Corner kick, nice execution, shot on goal, bounce, shot again but high and away. At least they're trying now. They just showed the Togo goal again: Kader's foot was so extended as he took the shot, he looked like a long jumper in midswing.

38... Korea's Cho tries again, shoots a screamer over the crossbar: The Korans want their equalizer, and so do we.

40 and another Korea shot from outsode the box, easily handled. Togo is getting nervous.

41... Terrific free kick for Togo just outside the box, straight on through the middle, saved miraculously by Korea's keeper. Corner. Shot taken by the well-named Dare Nibombe.

45... Two minutes of injury time... Korea attacking, chipping in... trying for headers, corner...taken by Korea's Beckham-wannabe: Chun Soo Lee has a bleached hair-do that makes him look like a hybrid rocker-androginy, and he looks to the sky as the shitle signals the end of the first half.

Half-time Fun: From today's Korea Herald, Korea's English-language daily:

"About 1.25 million people are expected to take to the streets nationwide to cheer for the Korean football team`s first game in the 2006 World Cup today, police said.With World Cup fever gripping the nation, fans are set to pull all-nighters to enjoy the much-anticipated match against Togo, which will start at 10 p.m. Police said yesterday the fans will gather en masse in 146 places nationwide. A similar number is expected to turn up for matches with France and Switzerland to be held June 19 and June 24, respectively. From late this afternoon, downtown areas will be engulfed with waves of red, led by the Red Devils, the core group of Korean football fans. Those seeking fun and an expression of national pride will gather at Seoul Plaza in front of the Seoul City Hall, Cheonggyecheon Plaza, Gwanghwamun in central Seoul, Daehangno in northern Seoul, Asian Games Main Stadium and Haeundae beach in Busan, among others. "I cannot wait to watch the game and I don`t mind missing some sleep time. I hope Korea will revive the miracle it achieved last time," said Kim Gwang-jin, a 32-year-old office worker in Seoul.

Korea advanced to the final four at the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by Korea and Japan. In the semifinal match between Korea and Germany, some 7 million people joined cheering crowds on the streets. Various entertainment events such as concerts and firework displays will help capture the World Cup festival spirit. At Seoul Plaza, music concerts will start at 5 p.m., turning up the heat for the match which will be televised later in the evening.A total of 120,000 fireworks will light up the night sky when the match begins and the Korean team scores a goal. The firework displays, organized by the Hanhwa Group, will take place at Seoul Plaza, and the World Cup stadiums in Seoul and Daejeon. Similar events will also entertain fans during the Korean team`s other matches with France and Switzerland. The two games are scheduled to be played at 4 a.m. Seoul time, forcing many people to stay up all night. The late night fever is likely to be a boon to the owners of food chains which provide late night snacks such as fried chicken. To cope with traffic jams and possible accidents or terror attacks during street cheering, the police will deploy thousands of policemen to neighboring downtown areas."

Second Half...

47...Here's Ji Sung Park taking a shot to open the half: I thought he wasn't even in the line-up, which gives you an idea of how litytle the Korean star has had an impact on this game.

49... And Togo's Mohammed Kader shooting on goal and on his way to being the game's most valuable player.

51... Korea's Beckham wannabe just got himself a yellow card. Jung Hwan Ahn (any relation to the speed-skater?) makes a run on goal, shoots from the edge of the box, high and away. Ball 1.

51... Togo's second-half strategy: dive, lay on the gras, waste time. 25 fouls so far in this game, make that 26, and a RED CARD FOR TOGO'S ABALO, who took down a Korean at the edge of the box, a nasty foul on what would have been a possible goal-scoring run. Now comes the free kick. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOaL!

54... And it's the Bekham wannabe Chun Soo Lee! a screaming curving shot perfectly curved over the wall. The keeper didn't see it coming.

60... The game has now risen from its first-half ashen complexion, Korea is on the ball, Togo isn't giving up, but playing a man down is going to hurt them. Korea smells goals, Korea smells Swiss cheese, and Korea is looking to drill the holes. But Togo still has some sharp chisels of its own for the Koreans.

62... Wonderful cross to Ahn inside the box, he dove, just missed it. Togo is beginning to smell toast. Oh! no! Togoi just had the equalizer on its feet, Salifou took a clear-open shot from inside the box and sent it flying toward Poland instead! And all of Togo is now yelling Sale Fou, Sale Fou! (That's "dirty nut" in French for you all Ukrainian-only speakers).

65... And again Mustafa Salifou lives up to his name with another bumptious shot above the Korea crossbar. But he's unbowed, Togo is still attacking, so is Korea, with Park just taking a slithering shot from outside the box, easily handled by Togo's keeper.

67... Those Togolese are flying, they're not one man down, they look like they're a barrel's worth of adrenaline UP!

70... More pressing from Korea, a header sent swiveling wide...

A tie will not help these teams. AND KOREA DOESN'T HAVE TO HAVE A TIE! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2-1 KOREA

72... IT WAS AHN! He took a pass up the middle that looked as if it was aimed at a teammate, he played the fake perfecly, "stole" it from his own player, dribbled laterally two steps, turned, shot, and the diagonal missile went in the upper-left corner of the goal, a hundred-mile-an-hour blast that lifted the entire Korean penisula's hearts, North and South!

And here come Korea again!

77... Should Togo start the toaster? Actually, maybe not. There are about 15n minutes left, and this game has been one for the rollercoaster.

80... No, no don't. Korea is turning wet-noodle-ish, playing the time-wasting game. Togo can shake them up. Like this shot Mohammed Kader just took, but again as if he was shooting a three-pointer for the Dallas Cowboys.

83... The US is probably going on alert along the Korean DMZ: there's going to be a hell of a lot of cross-border hugging and huddling and kissing attempts when this is over, if the score holds. Bush chose the wrong place to play surprise-visit today (just heard he's done another drop-kick into Baghdad, visiting scared as always: never let them know when you're coming, if you're scared for your what's left of your foreskins. It's the old Arafat strategy.)

88... Late-half heroics from Togo, a free kick outside the box, a lunge, a sail wide. But Korea is playing wonderful defense, clearing as if to attack again.

90... Closing in on a well-played game all around, too bad for Togo losing its captain and paying for it with a goal that has proved to be enough of a difference: Korea has its first win in EWurope, and Togo has its US-like work cut out for it as it heads into the dungeons of Switzerland and the Zizanies of France.

Final: 2-1

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