12th August, 2012
CARDIFF: South Korea’s players celebrated with extra relish after their 2-0 defeat of Japan in Friday’s Olympic bronze medal match earned them exemption from military service.
The South Korean authorities had promised to spare the squad a stint in the armed forces—which is usually obligatory—if they secured the bronze medal, and they successfully completed their mission in Cardiff.
Whether fuelled by delight over the result or relief at avoiding their spell in military fatigues, coach Hong Myung-Bo revealed that the South Korean celebrations had got slightly out of hand.
“It is a big disaster in the changing room,” he said.
“The players went crazy and threw everything about. I couldn’t go inside and had to wait outside until the press conference began. It was just crazy.”
As well as allowing the players to focus on their club careers, Hong said the exemption from the 21-month spell in the military would also benefit the South Korean national side.
“Today’s result will bring them big benefits for their careers now that they don’t have to do military service,” he said.
“This will also be important for the development of Korean football.”
Ki Sung-Yeung echoed his coach’s thoughts.
“There was this possibility for every player, so we’re happy to avoid that,” said the Celtic holding midfielder.
“We can now play in Europe more times and that was a big motivation for us.”
As a player, Hong was himself granted exemption from military service for captaining the side that reached the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, which South Korea co-hosted with Japan.
One of his nation’s greatest and most long-serving players, Hong has been in charge of the under-23 side since 2009, but he admitted on Friday that he did not know if he wanted to continue in the role.
“I don’t know the answer right now about whether I am ready to take the players for another tournament,” he said.
“I think I have achieved my goals in every aspect.”
Goals in each half from Arsenal striker Park Chu-Young and skipper Koo Ja-Cheol earned South Korea a smash-and-grab victory over their fierce Asian rivals in the Welsh capital.
It made them the first Asian medal-winners in the men’s Olympic football tournament since Japan took bronze at the Mexico Games in 1968.
The defeat of Japan also brought Hong’s side only their second victory inside 90 minutes of the tournament, as they won just one of their group games and needed penalties to beat hosts Great Britain in the quarter-finals.
Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka conceded that the Koreans had displayed impressive robustness in defence, but he also had cause to lament the poor condition of the playing surface at the Millennium Stadium.
“It was unfortunate that we lost the game,” he said.
“I wanted the players to go home with the medal. It was difficult to play our own football because of the condition of the pitch. It was very difficult to break the Korean defensive lines.”
Having seen his side beat the mighty Spain in the group phase before crushing Egypt 3-0 in the quarter-finals, Sekizuka was loath to criticise his players despite their failure to get behind the Korean defence.
“We had the chances to score and we kept on pushing in the second half,” said Sekizuka, whose team fell 3-1 to Mexico in the last four.
“(South Korea) took their chances and scored. The players really played until the last minute of the job.”