Fifa World Cup: How South Korea settled an old score with Cristiano Ronaldo

The Portuguese star didn't play in a match against a local side in Seoul during Juventus's pre-season tour

By Rituraj Borkakoty in Doha

Published: Sat 3 Dec 2022, 9:51 PM

Last updated: Sat 3 Dec 2022, 10:14 PM

South Korean fans Lee Gun and Joel were both in tears after their team’s last-gasp win over Portugal that sent them into the round of 16 of the World Cup amid incredible scenes at the Education City Stadium.

Joel, an American citizen, also cried of tears of joy when he went to South Korea to watch the 2002 World Cup, an event the East Asian country co-hosted with Japan.

Joel was only 10 when Korea made a stirring run to the semifinals in 2002, sparking an outpouring of emotions in his country of origin.

But remarkably Lee has no such happy memories of his country’s greatest football glory in 2002.

“I was 22 years old in 2002 and at that time, I was in the army, doing my training,” Lee told this reporter, referring to his country’s conscription system that makes every able-bodied man to serve the army for 18 to 21 months.

Like his fellow soldiers, Lee had no access to a television set to watch the live broadcast of any of the matches, as the national team knocked out a star-studded Italy and Spain on their way to the semifinals.

“I didn’t see those famous matches, we were not allowed to watch. There was no time for them because we were in the boot camps,” he recalled.

“Our instructor used to give us the result that ‘we are in the round of 16 or the quarterfinals or the semifinals’.

“So I was happy that the team was doing amazing things, but at the same time, I was sad for not being able to experience that amazing journey.”

Now this is only South Korea’s second entry into the knockout stages of a World Cup since 2002.

Lee Gun (second left) with other South Korean fans.
Lee Gun (second left) with other South Korean fans.

“I can’t explain this feeling now. It’s kind of very, very big moment in our nation and our football,” Lee said.

“Especially after Japan beat Spain to reach the round of 16, so it was important for Korea to follow Japan.

“Now we made it, and it’s a big deal. This team have made us so proud that we are in the round of 16. It means that we are one of the top teams in the world.”

Joel, who has travelled from Chicago for the Qatar World Cup, became nostalgic after he saw one members of that 2002 Korean team who is now commentating on this World Cup, at the Education City Stadium after the match on Friday.

“I went to Korea to watch the World Cup in 2002 and it changed my life. I was only 10 back then. Since then I have always wanted to go to a World Cup,” Joel said.

“So to be here today, it’s just incredible. I was brought to tears honestly. Yes, I am an American citizen, but I will always remain a Korean in heart.”

Lee then revealed why South Korea’s victory over Portugal also settled an old score with Cristiano Ronaldo.

“You know about two years ago, Ronaldo came on a pre-season tour to South Korea with Juventus. The public was going crazy because Ronaldo was in Korea to play for Juventus,” Lee said.

“But he didn’t want to play, so the people who paid money for the tickets were angry that he did not play at all. The fans felt disrespected, it was as if Ronaldo thought playing in Korea is not a big deal.

“So to annoy him, a lot of people in the stadium started chanting the name of Messi.”

Now Lee is delighted that Korea reached the round of 16 with a dramatic victory over Ronaldo’s Portugal.

“We just showed today that Korea is also important in football, we just beat his Portugal team. It has made us very happy and proud.”


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