South Korea 2 Togo 1
Well, I'll be damned. South Korea actually can win a World Cup game when they aren't on home soil and being aided unashamedly by the referees. Who knew? Admittedly, I didn't think they had it in them.
Early in the second half of this one I was all set to write a scathing rant against the Koreans, who had never won a World Cup game outside of Korea before today. When they made the quarterfinals in 2002, it was arguably the worst case of home cooking I've ever witnessed. It made the thievery that goes on in Duke basketball games look tame in comparison. Coach K would have been proud. South Korea beat Italy in the second round and Spain in the quarterfinals behind a litany of questionable - nay, downright ludicrous - calls. And anyone who remembers knows exactly what I'm talking about. It was a farce. Sure, those Korean stadiums decked in a sea of red and the thousands of fans decked in red wildly celebrating in the Korean streets was a fun and inspiring scene, and one FIFA surely loved. But let's be honest, Italy and Spain were robbed. And you know how I feel about Italy.
So, yeah, when South Korea was down 1-0 to Togo I had to laugh and was already working out lines to write in my head, most of which went something like, "Korea sucks!" or other such literary gems.
But fair play to them. They took advantage of a man advantage after Togo's Jean-Paul Yaovi Abalo Dosseh was red carded in the 53rd minute and Lee Chun-soo sent the ensuing free kick into the net to even matters. Oh, how quickly things had changed. Just like that, Togo, which had been played surprisingly well following all of the ridiculous turmoil in its camp heading in, had suddenly allowed the equalizer and were now playing shorthanded. It didn't look good and in the 72nd minute Korean substitute Ahn Jung-hwan, whose goal sunk Italy four years ago, calmly placed a rocket into the left side of the Togo goal. And that was pretty much all she wrote. Down a man and exhausted in the searing heat, Togo never looked ready to nab a second.
Which was a little disappointing. I was quietly becoming a closet Togo supporter if only because the entire outfit has a hint of comedy about it. You have to love a situation where you're just waiting for what craziness happens next. In the past week days, coach Otto Pfister had walked out over a money dispute - the players threatening to do the same - and only returned yesterday. There was a real sense that Togo might implode and embarrass itself. After all, this a team that fired it's coach, Steven Keishi, after he led them to the World Cup for the first time ever after he fought with star player Emanel Abedayor, who is sort of a Terrell Owens-like character. OK, maybe the TO comparison is a lttle harsh. I wouldn't place such an insult on my worst enemy. But Abedayor does seem to have a little Rasheed Wallace in him. Point is, Togo seems far from the most stable cast of characters you'll find. I like that. I can relate.
In the end, Togo played well and had they not gone a man down, Mohamed Kader Coubadja's first half goal may have stood up.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Pfitser was wearing jeans and a black shirt that he chose to leave unbuttoned almost down to his navel. Naturally, he had a prominent gold chain to complete the image. You have to love a coach who takes the casual look to such an extreme. I couldn't tell for sure, but we can only hope he was wearing sandals.
As for South Korea, I wouldn't dismiss their label as perpetual also-rans just yet. Sure, a win is a win, but Togo wasn't anyone's choice to win the World Cup. I'm sure Togo wasn't even a regular pick to advance, or even score a goal considering the circus surrounding their camp. The Koreans still need to show something against France and Switzerland before they can be regarded as anything as consistent Asian qualifiers who wilt once on the big stage with the big boys of Europe and South America.
And they won't be getting the Duke treatment this time around.