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Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK

Woo magic woos fans

By Stuart Roach
BBC Sport Online's man in Korea

The most skilful footballer on show here in Korea did not get to play a single minute in the World Cup.

In fact, Hee Yong Woo never even made the South Korean squad.

But Woo is an individual with a rare talent.

The former professional footballer now earns his living as a solo artist - and his skills need to be seen to be believed.

Woo, or Mr Woo to give him his professional name, is a master ball juggler.

The Guinness World Record holder for "soccer ball head tricks", Mr Woo bounced the ball around on his head for a remarkable five hours and six minutes to earn his place in the record books.

He also boasts an unofficial world record for keeping the ball up using any part of the body - an incredible 13-hour stretch.

Mr Woo can keep the ball airborne using his instep, his outstep, the sole of his football boot or even the toe cap.

" Concentration is the most important thing and I just have to keep my eye on the ball "
Mr Woo

He can head it, chest it and balance the ball on the back of his neck.

He can even flick the ball up and catch it on his ear while lying on the ground.

Woo learned his skills like most youngsters, by playing around with a football at home or in the local park.

His skills quickly caught the eye and he soon secured a professional football contract with Stuttgart Kickers in Germany.

His playing days are now over, but while most former pros eye a spell in the media or perhaps consider opening a bar, Mr Woo puts his skills to continued good use.

He performed his carefully-choreographed 10-minute routine in Las Vegas and Hawaii and is currently showing off his skills at his third successive World Cup.

The routine was even performed at Pele's 50th birthday celebrations.

"It is like a sixth sense," Mr Woo told BBC Sport Online.

"Concentration is the most important thing and I just have to keep my eye on the ball whatever I am doing."

At times during his routine, it seems as though the ball is connected to his body with a piece of elastic.

Mistakes are rarely seen, but this remarkable juggling act is no trick of the eye.

"If I make a mistake I must just restart and keep going but I am lucky that I don't make many mistakes now," he said.

"I practice so hard - all the time - and my routines are well rehearsed.

"In stadiums and outdoor venues, it comes very naturally but indoors under lights it can sometimes be very difficult.

"The ball comes down from the lights and can be difficult to pick out. It is harder but still seems to be okay."

During one of his recent shows, Mr Woo hand-picked a group of World Cup tourists to take him on.

Brazil, South Korea, China and England were all represented, though my pathetic effort of nine was never going to trouble any of them.

Surprisingly, Mr Woo did not laugh.

Instead he just advised me to practice, the same advice he gives to the huge number of young Koreans keen to emulate his skills.

"The only way to improve is to practice," Mr Woo added.

"I practice for many hours and work hard to develop my skills.

"As with anything, you only improve if you will practice and the hard work will pay off."

It has certainly paid off for Mr Woo, who is big box office hit in South Korea.

He is also a well-respected soccer coach but intends to continue to develop his career as a ball juggler.

It's a lucrative career - for as long as he can keep it up.


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