[VIEWPOINT]Dial down the soccer fever a bit

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[VIEWPOINT]Dial down the soccer fever a bit

There is absolutely no way of having a discussion on Korean soccer without talking about the magic number "16" - the number of countries that go to the second round of the World Cup - that seems to be on everyone's mind since World Cup fever grabbed the peninsula. Alas, I am no exception, and that is why I seem to have a tremendous headache these days when I try to find a way to write a story about the upcoming event without mentioning "16."

Even though I try not to use this number, I wonder why is it that I feel so empty inside when I don't write about it - another sure sign that I am infected with this contagious fever. As a matter of fact, everyone seems to be infected since people all ask me in chorus the same question: "Do you think that Korea will make it through the first round of the World Cup?"

These days, everyone who pretends to know something about soccer is busy trying to show off his quantitative skills by calculating all the possibilities that would land Korea a spot among the 16 nations that make it through the first round. They all have it figured out already. One win, one loss, and a tie would give Korea the much-aspired spot. Leaving top honors in the group to its obvious favorite, Portugal, Korea will be second - or so everyone seems to think. The so-called "professionals" have examined every possible avenue. A waterproof scenario it seems to be, and one that has been produced with ease.

Finally, the World Cup year has arrived. Depending on your perspective, there are only five months left to go, but there are also 140 days left as well. The World Cup has not even started, but given all the frenzy, one would think that Korea's entry into the sweet sixteen is a sure thing. Needless to say, a scapegoat needs to be prepared just in case the Korean team does not live up to expectations. One might remember how, in the last tournament in France, the head coach and the media had to pay the price.

I thought that it might be just a good idea to do the math again just for the sake of accuracy.

Never mind that our much beloved national team has gone to the World Cup five times without even winning a game; that is a cold fact. But no, this time our goal is not to just win at least once but go far beyond that.

In one survey, 44 percent of the people thought that Korea would beat Poland. Seventy-two percent believed that the United States would fall to Korea. I doubt that these answers came easily from thinking people. The survey results are not so surprising, since they seem to be based on the precondition that Korea goes through the first round of the World Cup. Given that, we obviously have to beat some other teams.

One might wonder what our opponents are thinking. According to a correspondent from Poland, strangely enough, Poles also started to think about the second round of the tournament the moment the team was placed in Group D with Portugal, Korea and the United States.

The U.S. role in our magic equation seems to be going as scheduled, allowing us to beat them, since they fell to Korea in a match at Seogwipo last month. Another survey revealed just how that win influenced Koreans. Only 4.7 percent of the surveyed people thought that Korea would again be shut out without a win. Imagine what would happen if that catastrophe happens anyway. Let me just say this: apocalypse now.

Very well, let's just assume that Korea will get its one win, one loss and one tie. Does that guarantee a passage to the next round? Correct me if I am wrong, but in last year's Federation Cup and again at the Sydney Olympics two years ago, we had two wins and a loss under our belt but still didn't make it to the next round. So this magic formula is not the free pass it appears to be. On the contrary, our goal of advancing to the next round is based on an assumed record that guarantees nothing. Of course we need a goal, but not an unbearable burden.

When we tied the Spanish Armada 2-2 and lost to the mighty Germans 3-2 in the 1994 World Cup, we applauded our players. We respected a team that did not stop trying, and that respect came from the sense that the effort expended is as important as the results.


The writer is a deputy sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sohn Jang-hwan

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