How to enjoy World Cup
Where has the World Cup (in Russia) gone?
Many people asked this of each other ahead of the opening of the FIFA World Cup Russia, somewhat surprised by the unexpected lackluster atmosphere in a country which hosted the global football festival for tremendous success 16 years ago in 2002 together with Japan.
The World Cup fever did not take hold here until a week ago at least.
Many cited the June 12 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore and the June 13 local elections as the main factors that overshadowed the sports extravaganza.
South Korea (Korea the Republic as named by FIFA) has slight chance of securing a place in the round of 16 in such a tough group with Germany, Mexico and Sweden as enemies.
Against this backdrop, the largest-ever world’s football championship kicked off at midnight (Korean Standard Time) this morning in Moscow with host Russia taking on Saudi Arabia in the opening match.
Though the Russia World Cup failed to attract enthusiastic attention of Koreans so far, the anticipation certainly thrilled people at stadiums, homes, offices and elsewhere around world for a month until the final to start at midnight July 16.
When it comes to football, people usually say “the ball is round,” so few can predict which direction the ball will go. Namely, it is difficult to know who will be the champion, even if we name favorites.
Experts, gamblers and frantic fans are busy making their own forecasts for major competitions on the basis of their own judgments and each team’s records in international matches.
A consensus both at home and abroad is that South Korea, ranked 57th, has little chance to survive the preliminary round against Germany, ranked 1st, Mexico (15th) and Sweden (24th).
In a self-mocking metaphor, South Korea’s FIFA ranking of 57 (as of June 8) is considerably lower than the total number of the three opponents combined.
Despite the hitherto less interest of the Korean people in this World Cup, I expect the tide will turn decisively, depending on how our team plays against the much-fancied opponents, especially in the opening match against Sweden to begin at 9 p.m. June 18 (KST).
Nothing is better than victory. South Korea is certainly inferior to the three other teams as international experts have flatly asserted. But all is not lost. Such low and pessimistic expectations mean there is not much pressure and it has nothing to lose. If it wins, a great reward; and if it loses, nothing lost. On the contrary, if Germany, Sweden and Mexico either win or lose: double or nothing.
I think that South Korea is able to beat Mexico since it has decent records against North and Central American countries. My hope is that our team will get a point from a draw against Sweden in the opener and will be fortunate to play defending champion Germany in the final game after the world No. 1 team is already through.
Bill Shankly (1914-81), an English football legend, who turned Liverpool FC from an ordinary team into one of the greatest in Europe from the late 50s to early 70s, said in an interview with the Sunday Times before his death: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”
As the Liverpool manager expressed, we Koreans are too obsessed with the goal of being one of the final 16, as if it is all or nothing, like the way our politicians deal with their opponents.
South Korea’s qualification for the second round is, of course, a much-cherished desire of our people after it suffered a humiliating failure in Brazil four years ago in 2014.
Yet, sports is neither a war, or a matter of life and death. Sports is just sports, and that’s all.
What we have to do is just cheer our players so they can do their best to display their skills and abilities in a fair manner.
To recall, “nobody” expected that South Korea would advance to the second round of 16 in the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup. Not only our players made it, they stunned the world by beating Italy 2-1 in extra time with Ahn Jung-hwan’s beautiful header to join the eight and then stopped Spain in a penalty shootout for the semifinals.
We still remember the “Sea of Red Devils (Korean football supporters)” on the streets across the nation. Especially, nearly a million citizens jam-packed the Seoul City center to cheer their team through the night during the 2002 World Cup to global admiration and astonishment.
Similar cheering events are to be held on the streets throughout the country, including the roads in front of the COEX in Seoul. It is an easy and irresponsible job to blame the players for their failure. What’s important is to encourage and cheer them up to help lessen their pressures as the team ace Son Heung-min asked.
The fete has begun. It’s time to enjoy the games, though the late night shows may strip you of sweet sleep. I am determined to become a couch potato during the World Cup period and make myself a coach.
I am afraid that after the World Cup, for what joy I should live as many people joke.
I am sure the atmosphere would be a nice change of pace with the start of the global sports festival. And the ball is still round. There is no reason for South Korea to make a “Russia Miracle.”