Germany nips South Korea

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2002

SEOUL, South Korea -- Only one thing could have stopped the singing, swaying sea of red. It came in the 75th minute off the foot of German midfielder Michael Ballack, no stranger to breaking hearts. Ending the most improbable run in an upset-filled World Cup, Germany advanced to its record seventh final with a 1-0 victory over co-host South Korea on Tuesday night.

''It was absolutely fantastic,'' Germany defender Carsten Ramelow said. ''We are proud to have beaten not only 11 Korean players but the 64,000 spectators.''

South Korea didn't get to paint the nation red for yet another all-night celebration by its millions of devoted fans.

Instead, it was the Germans in white jerseys who repeatedly took victory laps at Seoul World Cup Stadium, thanks to the goal from Ballack off a rebound of his own shot. His game-winner came four days after he eliminated the United States with a goal on a header in the Germans' 1-0 victory in the quarterfinals.

Little was expected from this team, but now it will get a chance to win a fourth World Cup for its country -- the first for a united German team -- and get the respect accorded the West German champions of 1954, 1974 and 1990.

The Germans were just too experienced and well organized for South Korea, controlling the ball and doing most of the attacking to advance to Sunday's final against Brazil or Turkey in Yokohama, Japan. They will seek to equal Brazil's record for World Cup championships, but will do so without Ballack, suspended after getting his second yellow card of the knockout phase. Four minutes before the goal, Lee Chun-soo got away from Torsten Frings and went around Ramelow, and Ballack pulled down Lee just outside the penalty area.

''My first thoughts are bitterness,'' said Ballack, who cried in the locker room after the game. ''My dream was to play in the final, but now that will not be.''

Germany scored after Bernd Schneider intercepted Kim Tae-young's pass and sent it ahead to Oliver Neuville, who ran down the right flank, drawing two defenders. He went almost to the end of the field, then bent the ball back to the center. Ballack, unmarked, charged toward the goal and his initial low, right-footed shot off the pass was saved by sliding goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae. But the hard rebound went right to Ballack, who volleyed in a left-footed shot from about 8 yards for his third goal of the tournament.

''In the world, very few people would have placed much money on us going through to the final, and so it's satisfying for us to prove them wrong,'' Ballack said. ''Despite the criticisms that were leveled at us because of the lack of style, lack of flare ... I think today's game really proved to the world that we are in the World Cup for something.''

A month ago, South Korea's dream was just to win a World Cup game after going 0-10-4 in five previous appearances. But after beating Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain, the ''Red Devils'' had hopes as large as the 40-by-60-yard South Korean flag unfurled during the national anthem. They were hoping to become the first team not from Europe or South America to play in a World Cup final.

On Tuesday, the 52nd anniversary of the start of the Korean War, this ''Land of the Morning Calm'' certainly wasn't. Seven million of the 47 million population was out on the streets, watching on 400 giant televisions, and thousands staked out their sidewalk spaces more than eight hours in advance.

Ballack's goal only silenced the crowd in the stands for a few seconds. The fans, almost all dressed in red, then resumed singing and cheering, hoping in vain for the equalizer. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung was among them.

When it was over, many of the South Korean players collapsed, but seconds later they bounced back up.

German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who had another standout night for his fifth shutout of the tournament, warmly wrapped an arm around 21-year-old forward Cha Doo-ri. Cha's father, Cha Bum-kun, is South Korea's most famous player, a former star in the top German league.

''We did our best,'' South Korea captain Hong Myung-bo said. ''We have come this far due to the fervent support of our fans. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts.''

Germany has never trailed in the tournament, outscoring opponents 14-1. While the Germans don't have a charismatic goal scorer like stars of the past, such as Gerd Mueller, Franz Beckenbauer or Juergen Klinsmann, they succeed nonetheless with their physical play and aerial dominance.

''I think we had a bit too much respect for the German team,'' said Guus Hiddink, the Dutch-born coach who has become a South Korean hero, mobbed wherever he goes.

South Korea's best chance was Lee Chun-soo's curling 15-yard shot in the eighth minute, but Kahn dived to his right, fully extended, and batted it away.

The crowd groaned when South Korea's last best chance, Park Ji-sung's shot in second-half injury time, went well high and wide right from the top of the penalty area.

''We feel sorry for the Korean people who cheered for us,'' defender Choi Jin-cheul said.

South Korea, the first Asian team in the World Cup semifinals, will play in Saturday's third-place game in Daegu against the loser of Wednesday's semifinal in Saitama, Japan.

Ballack's play that earned him the yellow card and suspension was praised by his team as valiant.

''It's more or less his duty,'' said Germany coach Rudi Voeller, a star of the 1990 championship team. ''Even though he knew with another yellow card he would miss the final, he still committed that tactical foul, which was utterly necessary. So he placed himself at the service not only of the team, but the whole of Germany.''

The South Korean players were all national heroes, and fans gave them a five-minute standing ovation after the final whistle. After they quickly headed to exchange jerseys with the Germans in a show of good sportsmanship, they went to each of the four sides of the stadium, lined up and saluted their supporters.

Hiddink was swarmed by fans when he climbed into the stands about an hour after the game.

''We can be proud of the boys and what we did,'' he said. ''Not just tonight ... but the long run of the tournament.''

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