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Flashback: Korea's Semi-final Heartbreak

Monday, July 9, 2018

With the 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-finals kicking off on Tuesday evening, we recall the first, and to date only, time Asia reached the final four as Korea Republic took on Germany at the 2002 edition. 


Korea Republic's passage to the semi-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup is a milestone in the continent's history worth revisiting time and time again. Prior to their fabled run to the last four 16 years ago, Asia had never had a team gone so far at the international game's highest level, with DPR Korea's memorable 1966 quarter-final finish the best effort to date.

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An impressive series of results in the Group Stage saw Korea, who co-hosted the 2002 edition with Japan, progress to the Round of 16 for the first time, where they faced - and defeated - superpower Italy in extraordinary scenes at Daejeon World Cup Stadium.

Equally monumental was the quarter-final victory against Spain in Gwanju, with Hong Myung-bo dispatching the winning penalty after a shoot-out to see the Taeguk Warriors dispatch the second of two future World Cup champions (2006 and 2010) in a row.

Their reward: a Seoul semi-final showdown with heavyweights Germany.

With a reported seven million of their compatriots tuning in, the home nation attacked from kick-off in waves of red shirt-clad attacks. 

Cha Du-ri, born in Germany and the son of famed striker Cha Bum-kun, created the Koreans' best chance of the first half when his ball from the right found Lee Chun-soo, whose first-time shot was superbly saved by Germany custodian Oliver Kahn.

At the other end, Germany's two attackers, Miroslav Klose and Marco Bode, also went close to breaking the deadlock but were kept out by a stout Korean backline as the half closed in a goalless stalemate.

Korea's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink looked to find the vital opening and brought on Round of 16 hero Ahn Jung-hwan for veteran forward Hwang Sun-hong, with Lee Min-sung replacing Choi Jin-chul after the interval.

Nevertheless, the match remained in the balance, with Lee Chun-soo denied by back-tracking midfielder Michael Ballack on the 70th minute after the Ulsan Hyundai forward had skipped past several defenders.

And it was to be Ballack, at the other end of the field, to have the final say. Scoring Germany's winner with 15 minutes remaining, firing past goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae at the second attempt to break Korean hearts.

"Of course we are disapppointed at not being there (in the final), but in general the German team were a little bit more experienced," Hiddink said.

"I don't want to look for too many excuses but we didn't have the power in the first half and were too respectful.

"In the second half it went better and we had some chances, but you have to be realistic and say that they had more experience, and in the end that will pay.

"We can be very proud of the boys and what they did, not just tonight, but especially in the long run at the tournament."

Korea ended their 2002 campaign with a 3-2 defeat to Turkey in the third place play-off, but their historic journey will always live long in the memory of Asian football fans.

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