Sunday, June 04, 2006

#12: Asian Tigers / Taeguk Warriors


Where? Eastern Asia, southern half of Korean peninsula.

How Big? Somewhat small compared to neighbors. About the size of Indiana. Population is very very dense. More than 50% larger than California.

Something I learned from the CIA Factbook: South Korea is one of only 16 nations , and one of 2 in the World Cup, that border just one other (Canada, Brunei, Denmark, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Gambia, Haiti, The Vatican, Ireland, Lesotho, Monaco, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Qatar, San Marino, and Northern Ireland (UK)). Also, unlike just about every other country I've done so far, the ethnicity is described as homogeneous, except for some 20,000 Chinese.

Geopolitical significance: Since the Korean War nearly made industry worthless, the growth in this country has been unmatched by anywhere else on earth for the last 50 years. Now the economy is one of the world's 15 largest and continues to grow. Plus, it shares a border with a nuclear power led by a dude that's pretty much insane. Also, it sits right between two bitter rivals who have top 5 economies in China and Japan. South Korea could be one of the most important locations for world events over the next half-century.

Fun? So, there's this character on The O.C. named Taylor Townsend, and she has this Korean fetish (always eating kimchee, talks about enjoying making out with Koreans because they're "hairless like a baby seal" (and I always thought seals had lots of hair...). Anyway, in the prom episode, Taylor's date is Korean and she sets up Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson) with a foreign pop star from Korea, rambling on about how huge Korean Pop, or K-Pop, is. Turns out, this isn't a joke. K Pop is one of the most popular types of music in Asia and around the world. I eagerly await the rising tide of Korean Pop in this country.


Korea has a pretty respectable history in international soccer. They've qualified for every World Cup since 1986, and they were semifinalists as hosts in 2002. Picking them to advance out of group might be a little bit of a stretch, but it's not that hard a group, with really only France as a top quality team (though Switzerland might surprise).

Qualifying for Germany wasn't quite as smooth as it probably should've been for ROK, as they finished second in their group to Saudi Arabia. They drew at Uzbekistan and lost both to the Saudis (though the home loss was after they'd already qualified).

The team is still made up of predominantly locally based players, though since the success in 2002, a handful of players have found spots in Europe.

South Korea is pretty good in the defence, with an experienced keeper in Lee Woon-Jai. But it's the attack that is most exciting about the Koreans. The midfielders push forward, using quickness on the wings and get the ball forward into space for the scorers, like Ahn Jung-Hwan (who's been playing in Germany). The one to watch is midfield/winger Park Ji-Sung, who might be weak on defense, but is pretty sharp in getting the ball in the right place for a goal.

The Koreans ended up in a favorable group, with teams that play pretty nice, flowing soccer. There should be some fun games to watch and a good amount of scoring chances in this group.

Korea opens with Togo, a decent team but not nearly as tough as opening with France. I think the Korean skill and speed run circles around Togo, who should also be pretty awestruck by the spectacle (which Korea has seen before). A goal each side of the break for South Korea. 2-0 win.

The second match should be fun to watch. France and Korea both play great, attacking football. I expect lots of goal scoring chances, but one of those weird games where not that many goals actually go in. Late in the game Henry gets free behind the defense and nets one for the win. 1-0 France.

The last match is basically an elimination game. The winner moves on, the loser goes home, and Korea has an advantage in the event of a draw. So Switzerland has to push forward. Unfortunately, Korea is great on the counterattack. They score a goal on the first half hourm forcing Switzerland to take even more risks. Korea takes advantage of that and scores again, effectively ending the match. Switzerland scores a late, meaningless goal to make it 2-1 though.

South Korea advances as the second seed in out of the group and is paired with Spain in the round of 16. This is a rematch of the quarterfinal match in 2002, won by the Koreans in penalties after a scoreless draw. Spain won't let this match be scoreless, as they slip a goal in early to take a 1-0 lead. Korea equalizes with some quick play forward. And the entire nation of Spain thinks, "here we go again". But not this time. With about 5 minutes to go, Spain go ahead. The goal holds up and Spain advances with a 2-1 win.

South Korea acquits themselves pretty well in this cup, and advances over any other Asian team. 2002's run to the semis won't be repeated, but they do have a good chance to advance due to a favorable draw.

If the World Cup were March Madness, South Korea would be... small conference team that's made great strides in recent years, and somewhat replicates a great run from a few years ago, using experience and skill. I'm thinking Bucknell.

The future of music. Style tips by O-Town, costume design by David Puddy.