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Coaches re-united in repeat of 1986 clash

Huh eyes Maradona revenge

January 29, 2010
By Matthias Krug

Aside from the glory of lifting the biggest football prize in the world, the World Cup regularly produces those magical little episodes that transcend generations and become part of football folklore.

Gordon Banks
GettyImagesGordon Banks save from Pele is one of the iconic moments in World Cup history.

Like Franz Beckenbauer dislocating his shoulder and playing on in a great deal of pain in the 1970 semi-final against Italy; like Gordon Banks producing the save of a lifetime against the great Pele; or like a 38-year-old Roger Milla dancing at the corner flag in Italia 1990.

There are countless others, and everyone has their own personal favourites, but the story of Huh Jung-Moo may not be quite up there in the top ten. Twenty-four years ago, the South Korean enforcer was called upon to mark the then greatest player in the world, one Diego Armando Maradona, in the 1986 World Cup match against Argentina.

It was South Korea's second appearance on the world's biggest stage, after 1954, when they had become the first nation from Asia to play at the World Cup. And they hadn't won a game yet.

That would not change against Argentina, as the opening game on June 2 went Argentina's way by a 3-1 scoreline. Huh did everything in his power to stop the genius of Maradona that day but, despite some clattering tackles that would surely find their way onto painful YouTube replays these days, the Argentine wizard garnered three assists that day on the way to becoming the World Cup-winning star of the tournament.

While that game has not gone down as a World Cup classic by any means, Maradona still vividly remembers the day that he was clattered by the solid enforcer from South Korea.

"I remember Huh very well, of course," Maradona recently told the Argentine media, after South Korea were drawn with Argentina, Nigeria and Greece in a tricky-looking group for this summer's tournament. "In 1986, the Koreans played taekwondo - not football - against us. I still remember Huh."

Of course, the Argentines are not exactly football fairies either. The last time I watched Maradona's men in action in Madrid late last year, the South Americans attempted to stop Spain's technical finery with much the same tactics that Huh employed on Maradona.

As football fate would have it, the two meet again this summer as opposing coaches, which is certainly something no one would have predicted in 1986, especially given Maradona's interesting development since. The South Koreans, too, have developed since the two sides' meeting in Mexico, although in a different manner altogether: known as hard-working football machines, they have hardly caused a scandal at all.

Instead, having been pronounced co-hosts of the first World Cup on Asian soil, the Taeguk Warriors enchanted the world by finally winning their first World Cup game and going on a stunning semi-final run on home soil. Even a final berth might have been on the cards had an inspired Michael Ballack not turned up to snatch a last-four winner for Germany. The big question is whether South Korea can repeat their 2002 magic once more.

That semi-final appearance, coupled with the consistency of seven straight World Cup appearances, makes South Korea the strongest side on the continent, according to Asia expert Ronald de Boer.

"For me, the Koreans have a very strong basis in their team, and the experience of having played a World Cup semi-final not so long ago certainly helps," said De Boer, who himself reached the same stage with Netherlands before going out on penalties to Brazil.

For South Korea, the second encounter with Argentina could make or break their finals campaign. They will be faced with another left-footed football genius who is also at the peak of his powers on the world stage, and equally intent on lifting the only trophy missing from his sparkling title collection. Lionel Messi, at only 22 years of age, will be the major threat to South Korea in their encounter in Johannesburg, and it is another young midfielder who may be given the unenviable task of man-marking the Barcelona star this summer.

"Kirrard" may well be the man to track Messi's runs in South Africa. Celtic midefielder Ki Sung-Jueng is nicknamed after his Liverpool idol Steven Gerrard, and strikes an equally awesome free-kick, as he proved in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Iran as well as setting up South Korea's equaliser for Manchester United star Park Ji-Sung.

Diego Maradona
GettyImagesDiego Maradona: Targeted during the 1986 clash with South Korea.

Huh may well have learnt his lessons from that 1986 meeting with Argentina and choose to alter his tactics accordingly. "This will be the last chapter in my football life," the South Korean coach said. "I will put in all my energy to achieve good results at the World Cup."

With promising forward Park Chu-Young also set to make his mark on the world stage, South Korea's Taeguk Warriors will be looking to achieve what their coach did not manage in 1986: a famous victory against Argentina.