It turns out that ‘Koreaphobia’ is a condition not easily cured. For South Korea and China, this week is the ‘decider’. The two neighbours have crossed swords twice this year already with the score resting at 1-1. Events over the next 48 hours will determine which nation emerges as the winner.
The Koreans have long had the upper hand when it comes to the beautiful game. In 32 meetings between the two national teams, China had never won. Such a Data HK woeful record gave rise to the pseudo-psychological condition that described the fear of playing Korea. It was a term coined in the Middle Kingdom but taken up with gusto in the Land of the Morning Calm.
That all changed on a February evening in Tokyo when China shocked the Asian Tigers with a 3-0 win. The result wasn’t flattering in the least and it could easily have been more.
The victory was the best moment for Chinese football since they reached the 2004 Asian Cup final. It was greeted with a hail of happy headlines on the west side of the Yellow Sea and provoked gloom, doom and much soul-searching over on the east. Only a 2-0 win over Ivory Coast a month later lightened the mood ahead of the World Cup – that and last week’s results.
The Asian Champions League reached the halfway stage and as it did so, Korea’s four representatives in the competition met China’s quartet. Each of the eight groups contains four teams with the top two progressing to the second round. It was a clean sweep for Korea as all four K-League teams triumphed against Chinese Super league opposition.
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma started the week coming back from a goal down at home against the Chinese champion. Beijing Guoan took the lead in the first half due to former Scotland international Maurice Ross but the Yellows hit back with three goals in the final twelve minutes to win 3-1 and stay on course for the second round.
Two hours later, Suwon Bluewings recorded a vital 2-0 victory in the Chinese province of Henan to cement its place at the top of Group G. A similar result in Wednesday’s return match at Suwon World Cup Stadium will likely see Cha Bum-keun’s team reach the knockout stage.
If Korean players think the winter is dragging on at home then Jeonbuk Motors faced freezing conditions in northern China at the home of Changchun Yatai. Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee wondered aloud if the host watered the freezing pitch overnight in order to turn it into an ‘ice rink’.
The charge was denied. It didn’t matter in the end as though Changchun took the lead midway through the second half, late goals from ‘The Prince’ Choi Tae-wook and ‘The Lion King’ Lee Dong-gook gave the Motors an impressive win in a tough environment. Changchun visit Jeonju on Tuesday.
The fantastic fourth win came on a bitterly cold night in Pohang. The Pohang Steelers were not at their best but still squeezed past the challenge of Shandong Luneng to win 1-0. The visitor missed a late penalty to end a bad week for Chinese soccer.
Naturally, it was mentioned by more than one media source in Korea though there was a good deal of restraint showed. The Beijing media was a little depressed but there was at least some sense of perspective from leading newspaper Titan.
“Our four teams shouldn’t give up,” said Titan. In the ‘Korea vs. China Asian Championship Series’, we lost 4-0 although the national team won 3-0 last month. We know we couldn’t catch up with Japanese and Korean football in one night time but there is a long way to run. Our clubs shouldn’t give up their Asian Champions League hopes. That would be a much bigger shame.”
“All four Chinese clubs lost their match in ACL in single matchday, it is the first time this has happened.” Said ‘Soccer’. “And they were all defeated by Korean rivals. We may have cured Koreaphobia in international matches for the first time in 32 years but the shameful results returned.”
Such sentiments could easily change over the next 48 hours.