France 1 South Korea 1
OK, I have to come clean: I think I'm slowly becoming a fan of South Korea.
As I've mentioned, back in 2002, I was nearly provoked to excess vomiting when the refs served as virtual matadors, stepping aside and helping guide the Koreans along to the semifinals on home soil. It was one of the worst cases of blatant homerism I've ever seen and I won't soon forget.
But by drawing with favored France and earning a result for the second straight game after being scored upon first, I'm starting to believe in these guys. They play with a resilence, determination and constant work ethic that is beyond admirable and they bring it every game. (Are you paying attention, United States?) When Thierry Henry put France ahead in just the 11th minute you had to figure the Korean joy ride was over. They had had their fun in 2002 and were fortunate to open with lowly Togo in Germany, but now they were playing one of the big boys on neutral ground and things would return to normal. I was seeing at least 2-0, maybe 3-0.
South Korea, however, maintained their poise and kept coming at the French and by midway through the second half were in complete control of the game. Their equalizer scored by Park Ji-sung in the 81st minute, while far from pretty, was definitely deserved.
And the Korean fans loved it.
Props to the Korean fans, who are (not so) quietly climbing the ranks of the best fans on the planet. They represent, for sure. In fact, whose fans are better? Brazil might get a nod, but I wouldn't hand them the title too easily. Koreans fans sing, chant, and bang on drums for ninety straight minutes, an ecompassing wave of love for their boys that rains down an opposing team with a vengeance. I can only imagine how inspiring it must be to be a player on the field surrounded by such devotion from your fans. It's beautiful. And it's always a goosebump-raising site when massive areas of a stadium are nothing but a sea of red, jumping and swaying in unison, thousands united as one. Awesome. Hell, 20,000 Koreans packed the Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch the game on the big screen. A Clippers home game has never looked so red.
Like I said, I now find myself in South Korea's corner.
For France, it just keeps getting uglier. They're now at a point where they need to beat Togo and hope for help. And with Zinedine Zidane suspended for the Togo game, we might never see him on the World Cup stage again. Who would have thought that France might sheepishly bow out as Zidane watched helplessly from the bench? What a sad last chapter that would be.
To be fair, France could have gone up 2-0 midway through the first half, but a shot from the head of Patrick Viera that, according to replays, appeared to cross the goalline was ruled as not doing so. It could have gone wither way, really. It was a rough break, but as the U.S, learned against Germany in 2002, se la vie. (Is that French? Does it make sense in this context? I hope so.)
At least France finally broke their scoreless streak. But then, even that was a bit on the lucky side. Henry finally struck, but his effort was more the result of a deflected Sylvain Wiltord shot that was veered rather fortunately and directly into his path that it was the result of a sustained, effective French buildup. Sure, a goal is a goal, but France has still yet to score through sheer creativity in the flow of play or from a set piece. They've scored once with a little luck and then failed to hold the lead.
Speaking of which, France yet again showed what happens (so often) when a team decides to sit on a lead. For most of the second half, the French sat back, showed little desire to attack, and barely saw the ball, seemingly content to play defense and let Korea do the work. And what happened? It blew up in their face and they surrendered the equalizer. I can never cry for a team that goes down in such a manner. You get what you deserve.