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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Cloud over Korean preparations
South Korea's players train in Seoul
Controversy has raged around the Korean players

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Semi-final | Seoul
Tue Jun 25 2002 | 12:30 BST
Live on BBC Radio Five Live

This should have been a day when South Korean football wallowed in the golden middle ground between their greatest triumph and their greatest challenge.

After Saturday's quarter-final shoot-out win over Spain, Korea's preparations for their semi-final with Germany should have been carried out with relaxed smiles all round.

Instead, the co-hosts are defending themselves against allegations of corruption.

Open Quote
When you are a good team, you must punish a little team
Close Quote
South Korea coach Guus Hiddink

If you believe the Italians, the engravers have already inscribed South Korea's name on the golden World Cup trophy.

If you believed the previous rumours, Guus Hiddink's remarkably fit squad have only come this far because of drugs to boost their stamina.

There is an air of innocence that protects the Korean fans from such accusations.

They are too caught up in the excitement to respond to any allegations of corruption.

In fact, the Koreans are more happy to quote the ancient proverb: "Luck is where preparation and opportunity collide."

South Korea have ridden their luck to reach the last four in their own country, there is little argument about that.

But conspiracy theories are a bit much.

The inquest, conducted by the world's media, has been labelled a trial by the Korean press.

And much evidence has been presented by the conspiracy theorists.

Portugal had two players sent off in their final group match with Korea, whose 1-0 victory sent the Portuguese side packing.

Headlines from Spanish newspapers after the defeat by South Korea
The Spanish press lead the complaints

Italy, too, fell foul of a red card in the second round, Francesco Totti scandalously sent off for a perceived dive having already been booked.

The Italians were also denied the chance of a winner when Damiano Tommasi was wrongly ruled offside.

Decisions also went against Spain in Saturday's quarter final.

But the three giants of European football all had chances to blow the conspiracy theories out of the water.

Sergio Conceicao hit a Korean post in the dying minutes of the Portugal game - an inch to the right and Portugal would have been through at the expense of USA.

Fernando Morientes also struck wood for Spain in golden goal extra-time on Saturday - an inch to the right and Spain would be lining up against Germany on Tuesday.

And, most crucially of all, Italy's Christian Vieri missed an open goal that would have cut Korean celebrations short moments after Seol Ki-Hyeon's last-minute equaliser.

Spain and Italy both had their chances to end the South Korean fairytale, having dominated their matches against the co-hosts.

Decisions may have gone against them, but they can only truly blame themselves.

South Korea's Hong Myung-Bo is congratulated by his team-mate Hwang Sun Hong
Korea disposed of Spain after penalties

"When you are a good team, you must punish a little team," said Hiddink.

"We have some weaknesses and we gave away some presents in the Spain game - and maybe also against Italy - but they did not punish us."

Hiddink, who is the first coach to lead two different teams to World Cup semi-finals, does not believe Germany would make the same mistakes.

"Germany are a smart team and a team that needs only one or two chances to bring them victory," he warned.

South Korean fans cheer outside the team's training camp
Conspiracy theories have not dampened the fans' enthusiasm

South Korea have almost single-handedly destroyed Europe's hopes at this World Cup with those memorable last three games.

For the first time since 1978, there are only two European teams in the semi-finals.

Previously, Europe had boasted 16 of the 20 semi-final places at the last five tournaments.

But there has been a change in the tide at this World Cup.

And that has nothing to do with conspiracy theories.


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