Collector traverses globe for World Cup ball

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Collector traverses globe for World Cup ball

On June 18, 2002, Korea erupted into jubilation as Ahn Jung-hwan scored in overtime against Italy in the World Cup, heading in a goal that gave Korea a 2-1 victory and sent the team to the quarterfinals.
That historic soccer ball was carried off the field by Byron Moreno, the referee for that match. Now, after 20 months in Mr. Moreno’s possession, the ball has bounced back to Korea.
Lee Jae-hyeong, a local soccer memorabilia collector, persuaded the Ecuadorian referee to let him have the ball. It’s now in a bank safe in downtown Seoul.
In addition to the ball, Mr. Moreno sent along his uniform and the yellow and red penalty cards that signaled Francesco Totti’s dismissal from the game ― a development that left Italy with one less man on the field than the Koreans for the remainder of the game.
Mr. Moreno gave the ball, the uniform and the penalty cards to Shim Kug-woong, Korea’s ambassador to Ecuador, on March 3. They arrived here a few days later.
Since then, the ball has been kept in a safe at a downtown Hana Bank branch ― the same place where the World Cup trophy had been stored prior to being awarded to Brazil.
Mr. Lee began his crusade to acquire the ball after learning through a documentary that Mr. Moreno had it. To sway the referee, he prepared a bronze plate imprinted with a likeness of Mr. Moreno’s face, as well as several World Cup souvenirs.
In December, he was ready to go to Ecuador, but canceled the trip upon being told the referee was in Argentina. When he did finally land in Ecuador on Feb. 3, luck was again not on his side: Mr. Moreno had left the country again, supposedly fleeing to Miami after receiving death threats over a call he’d made in the Ecuadorian professional soccer league.
Mr. Lee left his gifts behind, with a note, hoping that he would someday get a response. An answer came on Feb. 6.
A skeptic might question whether the ball is the real one. In a phone interview, Mr. Moreno pointed out that the side judges and the FIFA official who oversaw that match had signed it.
“In international matches, it’s the norm that the referee keeps the ball,” he explained. “FIFA officials told me I should keep it.”
As for the whereabouts of other historically significant soccer balls ― such as the ball that decided Korea’s victory over Spain in a penalty shootout ― nothing is known. Yet.

by Jeong Young-jae
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