[NETIZENS’ VOICE]Do we really love soccer, or just winning?The FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany is now only two weeks away. Korea, which advanced to the semifinals in the 2002 World Cup, wants to achieve another remarkable feat ― to once more startle the world and prove their results last time were not a fluke. The media are churning out World Cup-related articles and reports everyday and the nation is filled with rosy expectations.
However, there is something sad about the national interest in soccer: it is focused exclusively on the national soccer team. As the nation’s interest in the World Cup rises, attendance at the K-League games has dwindled. Looking at stadiums with only two to three thousand people watching a game, it makes me wonder whether Korean people are really soccer fans who love and enjoy soccer games.
Recently, the Asian Champions League final group match between Dalian China and Jeonbuk Hyundai was held at the World Cup Jeonju Stadium. Four teams in each group constitute a full league ― each team plays the others in each group and only the first-place team can advance to the tournament match of the quarterfinals. The winner of that day’s match would be able to advance to the quarterfinals, so the match was very important. However, there was no heat coming from the people in the stands.
It was a home game for Jeonbuk Hyundai, but the people cheering for Dalian China outnumbered the Koreans by far, making it seem like a home game for them.
The match was transmitted live to China and the Asia Football Confederation showed great interest. Although Jeonbuk Hyundai won, 3 to 1, and advanced to the quarterfinals, I felt very ashamed as a Korean soccer fan.
It hangs heavy in my heart that Koreans, especially those who call themselves soccer fans, seem only interested in the A-match games of the national teams and are not interested in their country’s pro leagues. Recently, Park Ji-sung, who plays in England’s Premier League for Manchester United, said during an interview, “Koreans are more interested in the national team than in soccer itself.”
Soccer is a sport of basics. To become the best player, basic skills are essential. This applies to all players, including those on the national soccer team. With an active national league, Korean teams can mark Korea as a strong soccer power in the world.
Koreans who are still addicted to the splendid report card Korea received in 2002 are hoping once more for the “magic of coach Advocaat.” But how long are we going to rely on short-term remedies? World-famous soccer teams are not interested in players from a country with inactive leagues. Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo were able to advance to England’s Premier League because they have been playing at PSV Eindhoven, a famous club in the Netherlands ―not just because the Korean team advanced to the semifinals in the World Cup.
As for the FIFA World Cup in Germany: Let’s all go wild with enthusiasm. Let’s hope with all our hearts that Korea performs well. And even if the results turn out bad, let’s give a big round of applause to the players who made our hearts beat fast with excitement. And when they return to the K-League, let’s show them more support and appreciation than before.
by Lee Jun-hui