South Korea v Japan, Tuesday 12th October 2010, 8pm

This one was only a friendly, but with the history between the two countries, it’s a friendly that matters. I’d learnt how to get the tickets from the Hana Bank before the last game and so a couple of weeks ago I popped into my local branch during my lunch break to get tickets for fellow Boro supporting exile Alan and myself.

Of course, these things never run smoothly and despite it being only the second day of the tickets being on sale the first woman that I spoke to in the bank gave me the dreaded crossed arm gesture and advised me that the tickets were sold out. I suspected that at best she was mistaken and at worst she thought that the easiest option to reduce her workload on a lunchtime was to just send me away. I very nearly responded to her crossed arms with a gesture or two of my own, but thought better of it.

Still, I must have looked so incredulous that one of her colleagues made a comment to her before asking me to wait a moment. Ten minutes later I had two tickets for the north west corner at 30,000 won apiece. Perhaps the confusion arose from the north stand being sold out. That’s the section where the more vocal of the home fans go and there’s obviously a bit more demand for that bit.

On the evening of the game the subway was especially busy and so it looked like there would be a decent sized crowd. I made the mistake though of not switching to Line 6 until Hapjeong, three stops before the World Cup Stadium subway station. It took me fifteen minutes to inch my way from the platform entrance to the doors of the train, by which time two packed trains had already been and gone as I watched from a few yards back in the queues.

That's my thumb in the corner.

Despite the delay I was still at the stadium by 7.30pm and I met Alan outside of the subway exit.There were far more people milling around than at last months game against Iran, which boded well for the atmosphere inside the ground.

Subway exit.

We made our way in and took our seats in the northwest corner. We were in the lower tier but twenty eight rows up, so we had a decent view. At that stage the ground was about half full, although as the game went on the crowd probably got to about eighty per cent of the stadium’s capacity, so there must have been about fifty thousand people there in total.

The Korean fans certainly didn’t show any respect to the Japanese, booing their anthem before the start and their players whenever they got the ball. It’s not surprising I suppose, when you’ve been invaded and occupied by your neighbours as  frequently as Korea has been by Japan then there’s bound to be a bit of residual resentment.

The anthems and presentations.

In additional to the oppression of the Korean people, most historical sites in Korea have also suffered at the hands of the Japanese one way or another. Just in case anyone might be unaware of this there are usually notice boards nearby telling you of the skullduggery. It might be that a particular building has had to be restored because the Japanese burnt it down in a temper, or that the original manuscripts that were once inside are missing because the Japanese wiped their arses with them. Usually any paintings that are on display are only copies due to the Japanese having using the larger of the originals as wallpaper pasting tables or something and the smaller ones to line their cat’s litter trays.

I’m fairly sure that the next time I come to the World Cup stadium there will be a sign blaming this Japanese visit for everything from the divots on the pitch to the queues in the toilets.

Non-stop support from the Koreans.

The Koreans did, however, get behind their own team and there were gasps of anguish every time one of their attacks broke down or when Japan looked threatening. The fans in the north stand next to us kept up constant chanting and drumming throughout the game, waving the large flags at the front every few minutes and setting off flares early on. I’d like to try to get into that section for an international match. Particularly one with a sizeable crowd.

They like their flares.

Park Ji Sung wasn’t playing as apparently his knee was swollen with fluid after a training session. I doubt that Fergie will have been too happy about that. The absence of the Korean captain probably reduced the noise levels by a few decibels mind, and saved the medical staff from having to treat the numerous cases of hysteria that tend to break out whenever he touches the ball. The broadcaster still brought their dedicated Park Ji Sung camera crew with them though and every now and then a shot of him watching the game from the sidelines would be flashed up onto the big screen, no doubt with a caption that his knee injury wouldn’t have happened if the Japanese hadn’t agreed to the fixture.

It’s fascinating to watch a Manchester United game on telly over here. Park Ji Sung is such  a star in his home country that the half time highlights consist almost entirely of his efforts. Every one of his touches of the ball tend to be shown with little regard for anything else that went on. If he wasn’t involved in a build up to a goal, it probably wouldn’t qualify as a highlight and therefore would struggle to make the cut. If he was having a quiet game whilst Man Utd ran riot, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was still 0-0 if you were relying on the television half-time highlights for your information.

Keeping up with the latest on Park Ji Sung whilst watching the game.

This game was genuinely scoreless at half time, Japan having looked the better side but without really creating anything of note. The second half was a bit better with both teams getting forward a little more but again without looking as if they could create something to break the deadlock. If a goal was going to come it looked likely to be as a consequence of a Korean defensive mistake, but they rode their luck and the game finished 0-0.

They didn't score from this corner.

The subway was just as busy on the way out and I resorted to heading in the wrong direction and looping around to beat the queues. That’s it now for the national team until the Asian Cup in Qatar in January. There isn’t much of a buzz about them under their new coach Cho Kwang Rae, who whilst  he seems to know exactly the sort of football he wants to play, doesn’t appear to have yet managed to make it work.

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