Forty years ago at this time, the Korean Peninsula was gripped by soccer fever. At the 1983 FIFA World Youth Football Championship (June 2-19 in Mexico), the South Korean national team, coached by Park Jong-hwan (87, then 47), defied expectations to reach the quarterfinals.
On June 5, the U-20 team, led by Kim Eun-joong (44), defeated Nigeria 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2023 FIFA World Youth Championship in Argentina to advance to the last four. However, there is a feeling that the excitement and enthusiasm is not quite in the same league as the ‘Mexico Four’ 40 years ago.
Moreover, four years ago at the 2019 FIFA World Youth Cup in Poland, Jung Jung-yong (54)’s South Korean team finished as runners-up for the first time ever, and Lee Kang-in (18 at the time) won the Golden Ball awarded to the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), so Korean soccer has been covered so much that the impact on the public has been reduced. Let’s take a look back at the soccer craze on the Korean Peninsula as if it were 40 years ago.
A streak of victories through tough roads…cheers from the entire nation
However, the road to the ‘Mexico quarterfinals’ was a rough one. The South Korean team was eliminated in the Asian qualifiers and then narrowly missed out on qualification thanks to North Korea’s suspension.
Park Jong-hwan, who had been in charge of the national team for two consecutive tournaments after failing to qualify for the 1981 FIFA World Youth Football Championship (Australia), came to the press room on the fifth floor of the Korea Football Association building in Gyongji-dong, Jongno-gu, to say goodbye to the team before it left for Mexico in 1983.
At the time, reporters from the media, including this writer, asked him about the team’s expected ranking without expectations. “If we make it through the four-team group stage and reach the quarterfinals, we’ll have achieved our goal,” Park said with a puzzled look on his face.
He had realized the high barriers of the world at the previous tournament four years ago, and the group A was filled with powerhouses such as host Mexico, Europe’s Scotland, and defending champion Australia.
At the time, Korean media outlets did not send any reporters to cover the tournament as the team’s early elimination was a foregone conclusion, and only one reporter (Ahn Bong-hwan of The Korea Times) was allowed to accompany the team, whose travel expenses were covered by the Football Association under the Yoonban system.
Shin Yeon-ho’s performance…defeating home team Mexico and powerhouse Australia
At 3 p.m. on June 3, the Korean team fell 0-2 to Scotland in the first match of Group A at the Nemesio D.S. Stadium in Toluca, an alpine city in central Mexico at an altitude of 2680 meters above sea level.
The Koreans held their own in the first half before conceding two goals in the 15th and 33rd minutes to Dobin. Coach Park Jong-hwan was aware of the high altitude in Mexico and had his players wear masks and train at Hyochang Stadium in Seoul for months to acclimatize to the altitude, but his efforts seemed to be in vain.
Then came the second match against the hosts, Mexico, at 12 noon on June 5 at the Asdeca Stadium in downtown Mexico City. A crowd of 71,000 cheered for the Mexicans, who conceded the first goal in the 10th minute to striker Reina.
A loss here would mean two defeats, and even a win in the final match against Australia would mean qualification. However, in the 29th minute, Yeosu native Shin Jang-woo equalized with a left-footed turnover, and a minute before the end of the match, Shin Yeon-ho headed home the game-winner to give the home team a 2-1 victory over Mexico. 메이저놀이터
A dramatic turnaround. With their spirits high, the Koreans won their third match against Australia 2-1 on June 8 at the Nemecio Díaz Stadium in Toluca, with Kim Jong-gun opening the scoring in the 16th minute and Kim Jong-bu scoring the winner in the 29th minute to finish second in the group and advance to the quarterfinals.
On June 11, South Korea advanced to the semifinals with a 2-1 victory over Group B leader Uruguay at Monterrey’s Estadio Tecnológico, with Shin Yeon-ho scoring the opening and final goals. The Korean team seemed to create another miracle in the semifinals against world champion Brazil on June 15 at the Estadio Tecnológico de Monterrey, with Kim Jong-bu scoring the opening goal in the 14th minute.