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Busan Buzz: Watching a re-run, quietly content

It must be great for a country and its people to see their football team play the way the Korean team began their quest for gold against Oman the other day. The Asian Games came truly alive for one evening.

india Updated: Oct 04, 2002 00:12 IST
Siddharth Saxena
Siddharth Saxena

It must be great for a country and its people to see their football team play the way the Korean team began their quest for gold against Oman the other day. The Asian Games came truly alive for one evening.

People all over the city were watching re-runs of the match -- a wonderful expression of attacking football by both sides -- after having watched it live a few hours before. TV channels did not tire of repeating the game well into the afternoon of the following day. And all of it was lapped up without any of the customary car-honking and drinking binges that usually accompany football success for an evening.

The Korean seems to enjoy his drink a great deal, but does so quietly. Any celebration or expression of joy seems well within itself. And the same stands for football. True, there was that noise and din created by the famed Red Devils, the Korean supporters, during the classic encounter against Oman, but once it was over, the noise died down.

Maybe, the quiet satisfaction at watching a football re-run, over and over again, carries with it a deeper meaning. Jingoism of any nature is in poor taste, but if it can leave a people quietly content, it forces one to have a rethink. And sporting nationalism would never hurt. Or would it?

For the moment, the thing to relish, more than the superb performance of their team, is the way it is received -- by a quietly grateful and supremely confident people.

There was none of the crazy celebration that became synonymous with the World Cup, as did Ronaldo's buck-toothed smile and crazy haircut. Not yet anyway. Instead, what has replaced that initial outpouring of disbelief, relief and surprise coupled with slowly growing confidence in strength and ability, is a calmness that says that this had to happen, and now it is happening. So, sit back and enjoy it.

South Korea seemed forever to be on the fringes of the world footballing elite. In fact, the greatest footballing achievement in the region came not from South but its estranged northern neighbours. And that could have been a sore point for long. North Korea knocked out Italy 1-0 in a 1966 World Cup shocker and almost did the same to Portugal in the quarter-final - leading them 3-0 until Eusebio decided enough was enough and slammed in four goals.

As an aside, this correspondent's attempts at finding someone from that North Korean side with the current delegation here, met with no success.

Coming back to South Korea, they witnessed across the ocean the rise of Japanese football in the early 1990s. Despite having qualified for the World Cup regularly since 1986, nothing seemed to happening in Korea. The jointly hosted World Cup in their land changed all that.

Guus Hiddink has a devoted band of Korean journalists following his every move at PSV Eindhoven. The Dutch coach's comments that the Korean team would win gold were more publicised than the fact that Asian Games were due to open in a couple of days and that the North Koreans were joining the party for the first time.

Koreans have recognised the effect sport and its recent achievements have on its people. Huge hoardings screaming 'Korea Team Fighting' line the skyline.

There is an ongoing exhibition -- again Dae Han Min Guk, -- celebrating South Korea's semi-final finish at the World Cup at the main media centre here, set up by students of a university and a publishing house.

What is surprising is that a country that can so easily get drunk on its apparent economic and technological power chooses instead to go high on the achievements of its mostly-underachieving suddenly delivering football team. They do not seem to remember --- or they do not want to care --- that they just might be back to square one in the next World Cup.

India might just end up playing the Koreans in the next round. That should be fun. But of course, not greater fun than Iran and Ali Daei -- yes, he's here --- locking horns with the Koreans in the final. Remember, before Japan-Korea 2002 happened, Iran were the best team in Asia. And the Asian Games defending champions would want that tag to stick.

First Published: Oct 04, 2002 00:12 IST