The Asian Games has drawn to a close in Guangzhou with Korea Republic’s rather ‘disappointing’ bronze medal finish on the football pitch. Japan came away with the gold medal, their first ever in the continental games while Korea on the other hand were left to a consolation of being 3rd placed. A feat that took 8 years that a Korean football team achieved a medal regardless of color in the football discipline during these competitions. The Korean coach led by Hong Myung-bo decided to pick Under-21 aged players despite the fact that the age limit was 23, was full of confidence despite the inexperienced squad, the team were receiving praise from fans and media alike much before the team even arrived in the southern most populated city of China, Guangzhou. His decision to call up these younger players were simply for the fact that they had been playing together during last year’s U-20 FIFA world cup where they finished quarterfinalists. With lack of training time, perhaps Hong Myung-bo had little to fiddle and risk take to call up K-League’s best performers such as Yoo Byung-soo (23/Incheon) and the other wild card option overaged player. The only overaged player he called up was Monaco’s ace Park Chu-young (24) and currently enrolled serviceman Kim Jung-woo (28) playing for the military outfit Gwangju Sangmu in the K-League. Monaco was relunctant to release the player at the last minute which resulted in the delay of the Park Chu-young arriving in China, which consequently led to his absence against the first opponent North Korea. However, this feat in itsellf was the result of Park Chu-young’s desire to solve his military issue and as well convince his employers that he would do more good than bad for the club if his name was cleared as that would lead to a win-win situation as his price tag would almost double since he would not have to go back to Korea to serve his time at the prime age of 28.
After the first setback against North Korea (1-0 loss) the team then steamrolled past Jordan (4-0), Palestine (3-0) and advanced to the round of 16 to book a date with hosts China which Korea comfortably cruised to a 3-0 victory despite the hostile home crowd. It was after that they started showing signs of mental breakdown with the fatigue creeping in and the ever growing stress of getting that exemption as they inched closer to the gold medal. In the next match against Uzbekistan in the Quarterfinal’s they had to churn out an extra time win after Uzbekistan equalized late in the game. It was their first test against their own will, and it was none other than Park Chu-young who killed off the match to make it 2-1, while Kim Bo-kyung got on the scoresheet a few minutes later to end it 3-1. This was a 120 minute match that would have a huge implication against their next opponent UAE. With all due respect to the other asian teams that participated in the Guangzhou Asian Games 2010 that recently concluded, Korea’s objective going into this so called ‘micky mouse’ tournament (as always) was the gold so that a whole bunch of these 23 players on the roster could get their military exemption and hence salvage 2 priceless years of their footballing career before they turn 28 years old (which is their prime). Korea hasn’t won a gold in football for the past 24 years, surely nobody in Korea underestimated this tournament let alone the thought of a walk-over considering the pedree (or lack thereof) and the teams that participated; without the military obligation on the line, this torney is a waste of time especially for a decorated team like Korea and FIFA’s most frequent customer to the World Cup in Asia.
For a team that played 240 minutes of football in a span of 3 days and lose outright at the last 5 seconds against UAE and missing the chance for that military exemption was too cruel for most of the young kids. It’s like running a marathon and leading for most of the race and then suddenly at the last 5 meters before the finish line your knees can’t cope and you lose the 1st place. You can call it harsh, unlucky call it whatever. Football is a game of moments, comprising of many moments of brilliance something like what life has to offer. No matter how good or long you’ve been playing the game, you are bound to be stunned by such brilliance. No matter how long you’ve lived, how good you’ve lived, you never know when you’re gonna die.
The tears in Park Chu-young is a touching one, as he’s very notorious for having a poker face. The reason why he cried was because he has realized the hardship of life and how football is teaching how to live his life. Remember, this 3rd place match was of ZERO value to the players, having rested 1 day after the 120 minute match, they were bound to lose with no motivation and no insentive at hand as the bronze doesn’t get you the exemption. But because his teammates showed the fighting spirit to still play as a professional till the end and reap a result, he was touched because the team was trailing 3-1 with 10 mins to go to make a huge come back to make it 4-3 at the final whistle. I don’t think he will ever along with his team-mates, forget the priceless experience this micky mouse tournament gave to the young Koreans, in a way to these players, the gold and the military exemption combined has of less value compared to the bronze because of the above mentioned circumstances.
This generation of players will be stronger than any of the generations korea ever produced thanks to Guangzhou however much is to be said about Hong’s tactics and player selection leading up to next year’s Olympic 2012 asian qualifications. Much has to be rectified, much has to be contemplated.
Life lessons are learnt, now it is time to display their lessons and translate that onto the football pitch.