The achievements of the South Korean national team in their home World Cup will live long in the memory.
The script was pretty much set for them to have a good group stage, then bow out in the last 16 so the big guns could battle it out for the top prizes.
Their co-hosts, Japan, read the script.
South Korea did not.
After topping Group D, thanks to wins over Poland and Portugal, they went into the last 16 with Italy their opposition.
South Korea managed to turn the game around late on to knock the Azzurri out, before defeating Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals to reach the semi-finals. Germany proved to be a bridge too far in the last four, but it was far from easy as it took a Michael Ballack goal 15 minutes from time to separate the teams.
Naturally, South Korea’s success led to much media recognition for their players and many of them even got big contracts on the field to represent clubs in Europe, but for one player his country’s World Cup run actually cost him his job.
Ahn Jung-Hwan was an attacker for South Korea and scored his first goal of the 2002 World Cup in a 1-1 draw with the USA in the groups.
In the last 16, he started the game against Italy and actually missed a penalty in the first half of the game. Italy took the lead shortly after, but despite falling behind, South Korea managed to equalise late on to send the game into extra-time.
Italy’s, Francesco Totti was sent off which then gave the hosts an opportunity to chase the golden goal that would send them into the last eight.
As the game appeared to be drifting off towards a penalty shootout the ball found it’s way to the left wing, and from there into the Italian box.
Ahn rose above the defenders and managed to redirect the ball into the bottom corner, out of the reach of Gianluigi Buffon, to send South Korea through to the last eight and the Italians home.
In the modern day, you’ll see a lot of clubs wishing their players well on international duty but it’s fair to say this was not one of those cases.
Ahn had been on loan at Perugia of Serie A, and it looked as though they would complete a permanent move for him, but instead their owner, Luciano Gaucci, decided to terminate his contract saying, “I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has destroyed Italian football.”
A few days later Gaucci took back his harsh reaction – presumably after undertaking some legal advice – but it was too late, and Ahn decided he would not return to the Italian club.
As it would happen Ahn would never return to Italy, and the remainder of his career would mostly be spent in Asia with short spells in France and Germany.
Regardless of how serious Gaucci was at the time, his words turned what should have been the greatest day of Ahn’s career into a bit of an ugly one and also an embarrassing one for Italian football.
The Italians had issues with the refereeing in the 2002 World Cup, but no footballer should be made unwelcome in a country because he scored a goal against them, and it put a bit of a dampener on what was a remarkable achievement from Ahn and his team mates.
This article originally appeared on gj2018worldcup.wordpress.com, where you can find a definite World Cup guide.