National team players embraced each other and burst into tears at the end of their final World Cup Group B match Tuesday evening in Durban, South Africa. Large public venues in South Korea, including Seoul Plaza and Sangam World Cup Stadium, were packed with fans staging street cheering amid an atmosphere full of excitement and exhilaration. The people realized their dream of a second-round berth on foreign soil. This great achievement was thanks to joint efforts of the country`s younger generation of players and the public. The players did not back down despite playing in the biggest tournament of world soccer.
The Taegeuk Warriors have had a history of despair and disappointment in their quest to reach the round of 16 at a World Cup held on foreign soil. The team suffered crushing defeats of 9-0 to Hungary and 7-0 to Turkey at its debut in the Switzerland World Cup of 1954. South Korea struggled amid poverty and hunger following the Korean War. It qualified for six World Cups overseas but could never make it to the second round. The team reached the semifinals in the 2002 tournament that the country co-hosted with Japan, but sought to accomplish the same feat abroad.
The national team has opened a new chapter in its 56-year World Cup history with younger players who have grown up amid economic prosperity. These youngsters constitute a new generation full of passion and self-confidence. South Korea was placed in Group B along with Argentina, a favorite to win it all this year; Greece, which won Euro 2004; and Nigeria, an African soccer powerhouse. Hence, South Korea had no guarantees of making it to the second round. When their games began, younger Taegeuk Warriors apparently enjoyed playing rather than being taken aback to elevate their team to the ranks of the worlds 16 strongest. Homegrown coach Huh Jung-moo is also drawing global attention with his unique leadership style that emphasizes speed and teamwork.
Experience in international tournaments and foreign leagues have also allowed South Korean players to achieve a second-round advance. They built up their skills and experience against stronger players in top leagues, and this effectively demonstrates that the level of a country`s soccer effectively rises in tandem with economic and political prowess. As the nation expands its economic power, it can build up global experience that in turn enhances its players skills. A growing number of young people are advancing to foreign countries, so world-class talent is being nurtured in diverse fields such as economy, culture and science as well as soccer.
The country`s soccer now represents Asian soccer. The national team cannot afford to be complacent, however. Lapses in defense were evident in the group matches, and the team faced a number of crises against Nigeria Tuesday. With its advance into the second round, however, South Korea is set to shock the world again like it did in the 2002 World Cup. The people have high expectations of another miracle following that in 2002 via thorough opponent analysis and preparation. They will cry Dae~hanminguk (Republic of Korea)! yet again in the team`s second-round game against Uruguay Saturday.