South-East Asia was in the news during the last decade for all the wrong reasons, due to tensions running high and clouds of war hanging over the region in general, especially over the Korean peninsula. So up steps football, as a mean to ease tension and create long-lasting stability in the region.
South Korea's president has suggested to FIFA president Gianni Infantino that all nations of the region – South Korea, Japan, China and, surprise, surprise, North Korea – will host the 2030 FIFA World Cup. A decision has not been made, of course, but the fact that such a solution has been brought up, and by a president of a country that stands directly in harm's way, shows the strength of the game, and, more importantly, it's meaning to a region that has made tremendous strides forward in a matter of only few decades.
South Korea has already co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup, together with Japan, and organized a well successful tournament, which was a testimony to the ever-growing popularity of the game in the country. In addition, South Korea can boost of a growing number of players playing in major leagues across Europe.
South Korea entered the 2002 World Cup with low expectations, as it has never won a match in the tournament. However, under Dutch coach Guss Hiddink, the national team went where no other Asian team has gone, only to be stopped by powerhouse Germany in the semifinals, playing aggressive, modern, un-Asian like football and helping bring football to new highs of popularity.
The best, and most well-known and recognized player in South Korea's football history is the legendary Cha Bum-Kun, which is not only the most capped player of the national team, with 138 appearances, but also the top goal scorer with 58 goals to his credit between 1972-1986. As a matter of fact, Kun is single handedly responsible for the breakthrough of South Korean football during the late 70's, was the first player from the country to play overseas in a period where it was unheard of, and he carried the national team to some of its finest hours and achievements.
It is quite astonishing to think that Kun played as an amateur until the age of 25, first for Korea University and then Seoul Trust Bank and South Korea Air Force because of a mandatory military service. After being spotted at the final match of the Asia Cup against North Korea, he signed for SV Darmstadt from the then West German Bundesliga, before returning to Korea to complete his military service. The second tour in Germany was impressive. During a ten-year period for Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, Kon scored 98 goals, was recognized as one of the world's best strikers, and carried Frankfurt to a UEFA Cup title in 1980 and a second UEFA Cup win in 1988 with Leverkusen.
The national team hasn't achieved
that kind of success since, but the country imports quite an impressive number
of footballers to the highest levels of football all over Europe. The
popularity of the game, it seems, has never been higher.
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