Rewriting football historyOur entire population of 48 million spent Wednesday with red eyes and hoarse throats from incessant chanting and cheering in front of TV screens from Tuesday evening till dawn.
Yet few complained of any fatigue, flush with excitement from the historic achievements of our Taegeuk Warriors in their final group match in the 2010 South Africa World Cup. They finally made it, taking the South Korean flag to the second round for the first time on foreign soil.
The South Korean team had a surreal experience at the semifinals in 2002 on home turf as a tournament co-host with Japan. But this first advance beyond the group matches overseas puts an entirely new mark on history. Nobody can now doubt our football skills, and the critics ridiculing our players as “home tigers” will be silenced. We all deserve a round of applause - manager Huh Jung-moo, his 23 players, the coaching staff and the team’s 12th player: all 48 million fans nationwide.
Sports are nothing more than athletic games. But we cannot deny that sports contests represent the economic, scientific and technological resources of a country as well as the spirit of its people.
The South Korean team made its first appearance in the World Cup in 1954 in haggard form, fresh from the ashes of the Korean War that had ended only a year earlier. They traveled 60 hours by train and U.S. aircraft carrier to land in Switzerland just a day before their first match. Their World Cup debut ended with a thrashing - a 0-9 defeat against Hungary and a 0-7 loss against Turkey. They still carry the stigma of having the biggest defeat in World Cup history. Yet South Korea came through dramatically to the 2002 semifinals and this year’s Round of 16.
For us, the histories of football and modern society are interwoven. The grandsons of the generation that fought on battlefields in defense of freedom are competing fearlessly against the world’s football powerhouses. Nearly half of our national team - 10 players - play on professional teams around the world, suggesting the world stage is where our future lies.
We hope our team will stand undaunted, pursuing the dream of the quarterfinals and semifinals. Their stellar performance will put us in a favorable light as our country vies to be the host country for the 2022 games - a decision slated for December.
Our next opponent, Uruguay, 18th in FIFA’s world ranking, will be a formidable match for our 47th-ranked team. But we have defeated 13th-ranked Greece. We await Saturday’s match with an ardent wish for our team to continue to fulfill our dreams and rewrite our nation’s football history.