It was a transformation more complete than a Doctor Who regeneration. “North” Korea went from “well-organised, but more than that, they can play” just before half-time to “this lot” by the end of the BBC’s coverage, by-passing “plucky” completely. In fact, the transformation was quicker than that. In between Portugal’s second and fourth goals, seven minutes in total, Korea’s record in the run-up to these finals had changed from a series of good draws with 1-0 defeats against Paraguay and Mexico “who have done well here” to “no wins in six matches.” Stalinist revisionism at it’s most clinical.
The Beeb haven’t stinted on the stereotyping with the Koreans, or at least the communist, totalitarian ones, especially regarding what will, or more to the point, won’t be shown of the Chollima’s games “in Pyongyang.” According to match commentator, Simon Brotherton, they “only showed highlights” of the Brazil game and not until seventeen hours later. And he adds, without a shred of evidence I’m sure, that they wouldn’t have shown a minute if Korea had lost heavily. Of course, this might well have been down to the cost of taking the coverage, which has been a stretch for better-resourced broadcasters. And only eventually did Brotherton explain that 17 hours after the game was actually “prime time” in Korea. But, you know, facts…good story etc…
“Technically known as the Korean Democratic People’s Republic,” sneers Lineker, by way of introduction. Not, “technically,” Gary, “actually.” As their manager said at a press conference last week, there is no such country as North Korea. But whether you respect them enough to call them by their proper name or not, the Koreans are good again today, at least for 50 minutes. They are certainly the best anthem singers. The Portuguese are the more traditional atonal belters, apart from CBR, who only appears to start singing when the cameras are on him. This, at least, is an improvement on the Ivory Coast game, when he had his head bowed, as if he thought everyone should be singing an anthem for him.
“The Koreans are more adventurous,” notes co-commentator Mick McCarthy. And he’s nearly in tears over it. Fortunately, there’s a decent block on Ricardo Carvalho almost immediately and McCarthy can growl “brilliant defending” with a disconcerting mix of menace and relief. Korean keeper Ri Myong-Guk hones his ballet skills as one Portuguese corner goes sailing over his head and goalhanger Carvalho hits the post. McCarthy thinks the keeper’s “fishing” but it’s difficult to see where he’s kept his rod. Just as McCarthy urges Portugal’s midfielders to run past still life model Hugo Almeida, Raul Meireles runs past Almeida and Portugal are ahead.
Brotherton appears to have forgotten his hay fever pills. But it’s just his way of pronouncing “Meireles”, who is momentarily the game’s most prominent player. And the pollen count in Cape Town can hardly be high as it is raining hard enough to wash the tattoos off the Portuguese players, most of whom seem to have lots. The Koreans are still just about in it, as the noise of the vuvuzelas drifts in and out like Radio Luxembourg reception during the night (ask your parents). McCarthy seems concerned that a Portuguese defensive wall will concede a penalty as they all have their arms across their chest like the Mexicans do when their national anthem is being played. “It hits them, it’s a penalty” he insists, oblivious to the wall being outside the box. “Change of channel, change of fortune?” says Lineker cheekily, as he previews the England/Slovenia coverage at half-time.
All of a sudden, from a close, entertaining game, with Portugal just having that extra bit of class, it’s 4-0 to Portugal, who are scoring as if it was a highlights programme. CBR, peripheral in the first half, is warming to his task, although he is not the terrific sensation Hansen and Shearer will call him during the post-match analysis. After the fourth goal goes in – the third in seven minutes – the cameras focus on three Korean fans, the one on the right looking a deadringer for a Korean John Prescott – a concept upon which it is perhaps best not to dwell. Ronaldo and nominal left-back Fabio Coentrao are starting to dominate affairs, the latter particularly delighting Brotherton (“are you his agent, Simon?” – McCarthy).
But Portugal don’t score again for a bit, largely down to Almeida, who clearly graduated with honours from the Pauleta school of s**te Portuguese strikers, despite having scored Portugal’s third today. Almeida is clattered from behind late on and rabbits on to the ref for some time afterwards, oblivious to the millions of people round the world shouting at their screens, “shut up or you’ll get yourself booked.” He gets himself booked. Portugal add another three quick goals after Almeida is substituted. Brotherton thinks he looks “tired and leaden-weary”, but he always plays like that. “Looking like the tin man,” is McCarthy’s more specific appraisal as Almeida clanks to the dug-out.
CBR gets his deserved goal, balancing the ball on the back of his neck like a Nike ad trick; although even he can’t pretend he’s done it deliberately. And by the end, even Eusebio, who’s been grumpy-and-a-half each time the camera has focused on him, can afford a smile and a thumbs-up. If Portugal are to miss out on second place on goal difference, we’re in for an entertaining Friday afternoon. The Koreans have been nothing like as bad as 7-0 suggests, they’ve simply tired towards the end, as CBR has turned on the style (one of his shots hits the crossbar so hard it knocks all the rainwater off). Lineker notes that the Koreans who famously lost 5-3 to Portugal in the 1966 World Cup were promoted to generals in the army. “I can’t vouch for this lot,” he adds, un-necessarily. Nice to see your former friends slagging you off. If that’s what reasonable analysis is… for ****’* sake.
Thanks once again to Historical Football Kits for the use of their graphics.