FC Seoul v Nagoya Grampus, Tuesday 19th April 2011, 8pm

There was an Asian Champions League match at Sangam Stadium last Tuesday between Korean champions FC Seoul and their Japanese counterparts Nagoya Grampus. As you may know, there’s a bit of rivalry between the two countries and so I thought I’d go along and see how it went.

I don’t know very much about Japanese football, but I had heard of Nagoya Grampus. They are the club that Gary Lineker wound down his career with in the days when they were known as Grampus Eight. They are also the club that Arsene Wenger managed before moving to Arsenal. It’s hard to imagine that a club in Arsenal’s position would pluck a relatively unknown manager from an Asian club these days.

Champions League games kick off at 8pm so I had plenty of time to make my way to the World Cup Stadium. There weren’t as many people milling around outside as usual, suggesting that the visit of the Japanese champions wasn’t quite the attraction that I’d thought it would have been. I paid fourteen thousand won for an East stand ticket and another thousand for a programme in the hope that Grampus might have a player or two that I knew of. They didn’t.

Not much of a crowd.

I hadn’t had my tea so I got myself a six inch pizza from the Pizza Hut stall. They only sell one type, the toppings being sweet potato, pineapple and meat that I couldn’t identify. Possibly pork. It was as good as you’d imagine it to be.

It’s free seating in the East Stand and I found a place in the lower tier about eight rows up. The small kid in front of me, recognizing that I might not have been born and bred in Seoul, spent the build up to the game quizzing me on my knowledge of English football.

“Do you know Manchester United?”

“Yes”

“Do you know Park Ji Sung?”

“Yes”

“Do you know Rooney?”

“Yes. He is my friend, sometimes he drives me to the shops in his car.”

“Really?”

“No”

“Do you know Lee Chung Yong?”

“Yes”

“Do you know Chelsea?”

“Yes”

“Do you know Drogba?”

“Yes. He has a horse and he rides it past my house on his way to Starbucks.”

“Really?”

“No”

I thought that I would have a turn at asking the questions.

“Do you know Middlesbrough?”

“No.”

“Do you know Lee Dong Gook?”

“No.”

“Do you know Phil Stamp?”

“No.”

How could he not know of this fella?

Fortunately the teams came out at that point and we could call a halt to the cultural exchange. There was a minute’s silence for the victims of the recent earthquake and those of the not so recent killing of anti-government protesters by the Korean police on April 19th 1960. I’m not sure if the anniversary of the massacre is remembered with a minute’s silence every year or whether it was included because we were having one anyway.

If the intention was to give the Koreans something of their own to pay their respects to, it didn’t work. I didn’t see anyone bother to stand up and the vast majority of people around me ignored it and carried on chatting amongst themselves.

As the game kicked off a few of the couple of hundred Grampus fans behind the goal lit their flares. It was an impressive sight, albeit something that would get you a three year banning order in the UK.

Grampus fans

FC Seoul had most of the early possession, putting a bit of pressure on the Grampus defence. It was Grampus that opened the scoring though with a scrambled effort against the run of play after twenty six minutes.  Seoul, with all four of their non-Korean players on the pitch, had plenty of opportunities in the remainder of the first half but went off at the interval a goal behind.

Seoul go close just before half time.

Seoul continued to press after the break and it seemed likely that they would equalize before long. The Grampus keeper had a tendency to palm the ball away and it just looked like a matter of time before someone would take advantage. Irritatingly, the 2010 World Cup craze for vuvuzelas shows no sign of fading in Seoul and whenever Grampus had possession the home fans would recreate the sound of the previous summer.

Another dodgy FC Seoul haircut

As the second half progressed the Seoul players got increasingly frustrated with the Grampus timewasting. Molina, in particular, was taking every opportunity to complain to the officials whilst Yeo Hyo Jin gave one Japanese player something legitimate to writhe about by hacking him down in the centre circle.

Molina takes a break from moaning at the ref.

The home team continued to press as time started to run out with Molina curling one a fraction wide from the angle of the box with about twenty minutes remaining. Just as I was looking forward to a frantic last ten minutes Grampus hit Seoul on the break and killed the game stone dead with their second goal of the evening. The two goal victory took Grampus to the top of the four team group ahead of Seoul on goal difference.

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