Friday, August 10, 2012

The most golden bronze medal ever

Has a bronze medal ever meant so much?
For a long time, I have wanted this bronze medal for Korea so badly, but I was afraid of getting my hopes up and getting heartbroken. If Korea failed to medal this year, then the only likely remaining chance for many of these players to earn military exemption would be at the Asian Games in 2014.

Now was our glorious chance, but would we be able to seize it?

There's a whole lotta historical, political, and cultural reasons why a Korea victory over Japan means so much to people, but I'll try to explain in pure footballing terms why it was of such utmost importance for Korea to win the bronze medal.

Of course there's military exemption, but that's obvious and I've written about that before. So what else was at stake?

Quite simply, what was at stake was genuine optimism for Korean football amidst turbulent changes and an intensifying rivalry with Japan.

Park Chu Young, Koo Ja Cheol, and Ki Sung Yueng
will now be able to lead the new generation of
Korean footballers for the next 10 years,
unencumbered by military duties
Korea did well in the 2010 World Cup when they advanced to the Round of 16 and lost to eventual 4th place finishers Uruguay. But afterwards, the team grew stagnant while its closest rivals, Japan, began to impressively ascend to new heights. This was bitterly highlighted in Japan's two most recent victories against Korea: a shootout victory in the 2011 Asian Cup, and a dominant 3-0 victory in the last Haniljeon (what we call a Korea-Japan derby match).

Korea's road to the World Cup had also become rocky. A shock loss last year to Lebanon led to the firing of manager Cho Kwang Rae, and the search for his successor was less than organized. Eventually, Choi Kang Hee (a safe and logical pick) was chosen as the new manager, and he led the team to a series of unconvincing wins over bad-to-mediocre Middle Eastern sides.

With the retirement of legendary veterans like Park Ji Sung and Lee Young Pyo, Korea had a serious leadership vacuum and an uncertain future. Meanwhile, the fact that Japan with its superstar players (like Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, and Yuto Nagatomo) was being recognized as an upcoming footballing power just made everything more painful for Korean football fans.

If they could do it, why couldn't we?

That's why this Olympics meant so much to us. It was the story of a young team that saw a new leadership core emerge in the midfield partnership of Ki Sung Yueng and Koo Ja Cheol. It also saw the well-disciplined solidification of what had been the weakest part of the Korean team for a long time: its defense. And it was a testing ground for manager Hong Myung Bo, who promised to be the kind of charismatic leader that Korean football hadn't seen since the likes of the canonized Guus Hiddink.

Park Chu Young redeemed himself after an intensely difficult year that saw him bafflingly ignored
at Arsenal and vilified as unpatriotic for obtaining military service deferment through his ties to Monaco.
Park scored the crucial first goal against Japan and assisted on the backbreaking second.

Well, now that Korea has accomplished the seemingly impossible dream of medalling in football in these Olympics, I'm surprised that I'm not more ecstatic. I was floating when Korea beat Switzerland, and I was in rapturous ecstasy when we beat Great Britain. But I feel so calm now that we've beaten Japan. It's almost as if I felt that there was no possible way that the universe would let us lose after we had come this close. I dreaded to think about how I would cope with a loss to Japan, but I was never that afraid.

Well, it's now the sweet end of a long journey, and I probably won't write about Korean football much anymore. I can't emphasize how monumental of a turning point this is, as an entire generation of perhaps the most promising bunch of young Korean players has now been freed of debilitating military service. This victory over Japan will go down as one of the most famous wins in the team's history.

Hong Myung Bo: The New King of Korea

London 2012. Best Olympics ever.

No comments :

Post a Comment