South Korea 2-1 Togo
You kind of had the feeling that this wasn’t going to be Togo’s day from the moment that the stadium PA system belted out the South Korean national anthem twice before the match started. To be fair, some of the Togolese players gamely attempted to mouth the words to it, but most of them stood there looking vaguely confused. FIFA were doing their bit towards killing all of the players before the end of the first round. Not only are they said to be “clamping down” on water breaks during play (after, we wouldn’t want the players re-hydrating themselves now, would we?), but they also insisted, for the purposes of a better picture on the television, of all things, on keeping the roof on, meaning that the stadium had the atmosphere and humidity of a sauna.
Togo, whose coach resigned last Friday, only to be reinstated on Monday, were due to be the tournament whipping boys. Fielding a team from the nether regions of European football and the second tier of African league football, they took the game to the Koreans from the start, and created the better of the opportunities even before they scored just before half-time. Korea, by contrast, were lousy. A poor imitation, even of the team that fluked (and that’s being generous) it’s way to the semi-finals four years ago.
The turning point came ten minutes into the second half, and it was a case of bad luck rather than bad refereeing. There was no question that Jean-Paul Abalo’s tackle warranted a second yellow card, but it was rough justice that Korea levelled from that free-kick. They’d provided very little beforehand to indicate that they deserved it. From then on, it was fairly clear that there would only be one winner, yet the under-dogs made the Koreans sweat until fifteen minutes from the end before Ahn Jung-Hwan’s deflected shot tied things up.
There is no chance, on this evidence, of Korea repeating their over-achievement of four years ago. Without that foul, I would seriously contend that they wouldn’t have been able to haul themselves back into the match. As for Togo, well, I think we could have the tournament under-dog heroes here. A genuinely unassuming African team (unlike, let’s face it, Ivory Coast, who have as many millionaires as many European teams), with big hearts, who played without fear and way above their collective ability. I will be living for the next week and bit, hope amongst hope, that they can get a couple of points – especially against the wretched French, of whom more shortly.
For now, let’s hear it: TOGO! TOGO! TOGO! TOGO!