THREE games in and we have the first shock of the 2010 World Cup. South Korea, ranked 47 in the world, were simply too much for Greece, ranked 13, winning 2-0 in a clash of two of the globe’s most troubled nations at Port Elizabeth.
Off the field, the Greek economy has imploded, they’ve had street protests and social unrest. How they needed a good old sporting success to lift the nation. In South Korea, there’s political unrest and protests against their missile-wielding northern neighbours (who play Brazil on Tuesday). They needed a little on-field boost nationally too.
And they got it, courtesy of Lee Jung-Soon’s far-post tap-in the seventh minute and a quite brilliant goal from godlike captain and Manchester United star Park Ji-Sung in the 52nd minute. The result was never in doubt. South Korea were efficient, aggressive, dominant. Greece, training in the heat of Durban and based at the swanky Beverly Hills Hotel (see my YouTube video on the subject http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Px-ROLawUnU), simply had no answers, though they improved late on.
Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-Yong and Bolton striker Lee Chung-yong were among the recognisable Korean names for European fans, while Greece offered Celtic’s Georgios Samaras but didn’t pick Liverpool centre-back Sotiris Kyrgiakos
Experienced Greek coach Otto Rehhagel rarely attempts all-out attacking football, and once they’d gone behind, Greece never really recovered. Before the match Rehhagel said: “It's the first match and if you lose the first match your chances of getting through to the next round are limited.” That will rank highly among the things coaches wish they hadn’t said at this World Cup. They’ve got Nigeria next in Bloemfontein on the 17th. It’s become a must-win. Korea have got Argentina in Johannesburg on the same day.
Both of these sides remain unlikely to qualify, but Korea can proudly claim to be the first winners at Africa’s first World Cup.
Veteran Korea keeper Lee “Spiderhands” Woon-jae was, sadly, left on the bench for Jung Sung-ryong. He made a spectacular 81st minute save but otherwise had little to do but listen to the vuvuzelas in a sparse crowd of 30,000 in a 46,000-capacity Nelson Mandela Stadium. Another great venue – it will be full for the next one, Ivory Coast versus Portugal in Group G on Tuesday, with the vast South Africa Portuguese community dominant (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nIz0GAAlzc).
Down in Cape Town, France were suffering again. After last night’s awful 1-1 draw against Uruguay in Group A, their rugby team went down to the Springboks at a packed Newlands Stadium, where Vuvuzelas are banned.
And that’s the problem. Port Elizabeth is rugby and cricket territory. Even the African population – like legendary cricketer Makhaya Ntini from nearby Kingswilliamstown – play the uppercrust sports in the old British mission schools around the Eastern Cape.
A bit like England’s losing rugby international in Perth, Australia this morning where only 32,000 turned up at the 50,000-capacity Subiaco Oval, you can’t force people to watch soccer if it isn’t in their culture. Remember, South Africa is a vast country of many varied people and climates.
And that’s why this is just the first upset in what promises to be a hugely unpredictable World Cup. Inland, the nights are cold, the days are cloudless and hot. In Durban, it’s warm enough to swim in the sea even in mid-winter June. Cape Town can be like Manchester in December at this time of year, while Port Elizabeth is nick-named the windy city.
Question is, will the chilly late-kick off at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium tonight suit the USA or England. We will soon find out. But one thing’s certain. You can’t bet on it.