We continue our series of the Top ten Iconic Moments in International Football with number nine:
Ahn Jung-Hwan’s Golden Goal, South Korea v Italy, Round of 16, 2002 FIFA World Cup, Korea-Japan
“Goal! Golden Goal! And could a goal be more golden! Ahn Jung-Hwan! South Korea! Quarter Finals!”
As vocally excited commentator Peter Drury screamed these words into his microphone, a nation of fifty million people was celebrating in joy. Ahn-Jung Hwan had scored the Golden Goal that would see the co-hosts of the 2002 FIFA World Cup progress to the quarter-finals of the tournament at the expense of four-time World Cup winners Italy.
South Korea had been awarded the rights to host the World Cup along with fellow Far Easterners Japan. This remains the first and only time two sides have jointly hosted a World Cup.
The South Korean fanbase had turned into a mass of noise and colour with the sole intention of intimidating opposition teams. They were indeed fearsome to look at: wearing red from head to toe, with hours spent painting the South Korean flags on their faces, led by raucous twenty-something and teenage girls who would not look out of place at a death metal concert having just snorted cocaine.
Backed by their nation’s fanatical home support, the side finished on top of Group D, beating Poland (2-0) and Portugal (1-0) and drawing 1-1 with the United States.
Italy came into the World Cup full of confidence. They had made it to the finals of the European Championships in 2000, losing to France in extra time, and had bowed out of the previous World Cup only on penalties. They had some of the best players in the business, including Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Gianluca Zambrotta and five excellent forwards in Filippo Inzaghi, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Vincenzo Montella and Christian Vieri.
Finishing second in their group behind Mexico, having won, drawn and lost one game each, the Italians were expected to overcome the hosts.
The game was overseen by referee Byron Moreno, who was later found guilty of corruption. Francesco Totti had been booked for diving and sent off in extra time. The hosts had been awarded a penalty in the fourth minute when Christian Panucci was penalised for pulling Seol Ki-Hyeon’s shirt, but Ahn Jung-Hwan contrived to miss.
Vieri gave Italy the lead in the 18th minute, who proceeded to sit back and defend. But Korea kept plugging away, and two minutes from time, Seol equalised.
As the game went into extra time, Totti was sent off for an alleged dive in the box and Damiano Tommasi had a Golden Goal incorrectly ruled out for offside. FIFA officials were to face the ire of Giovanni Trapatoni, the Italian coach, who banged his fists against the glass box they were seated in, screaming, shouting and hurling abuse at them for their abysmal officiating.
He had good reason to do so. Italy had already had two goals apiece against both Croatia and Mexico disallowed in the Group Stages.
Three minutes before the end of extra time, a looping ball was hoisted into the box that somehow eluded Italy’s defenders (who play in Serie A, a league famous for stingy backlines) and found Ahn Jung-Hwan, who headed the ball home past Gianluigi Buffon to give his side the win.
Ahn celebrated his Golden Goal by wheeling away from the goalmouth and sprinting towards the corner flag with arms raised in ecstasy. For him, it had been a moment of deeply personal satisfaction: Ahn had been on the books of Italian side Perugia, but could not get a game for either love or money, featuring only thirty times in two league seasons there, hitting the back of the net all of five times.
The Italians thought he wasn’t good enough to play in Serie A. This goal was a statement that said ‘I am as good as you are, you just haven’t seen it yet.’
As the Italian players and fans alike struggled to come to terms with their defeat at the hands of the co-hosts, South Korea went on to beat Spain in the quarters before losing out to Germany in the semis.
To the Italians, Korea-Japan was tainted with injustice.
Ahn’s Golden Goal would turn out to be the last ever in football. It was so controversial that FIFA decided to scrap it completely from all international and domestic tournaments.
The Koreans had been flying into tackles all game, but no action was taken against them. It was later found out that Totti hadn’t dived, but had lost his footing. Damiano Tommasi’s goal meant football fans could’ve witnessed a mouth-watering Spain-Italy clash in the quarter-finals, but didn’t because he’d been incorrectly given offside.
Decisions had been going in favour of the Koreans throughout the tournament. Portugal had two players sent off when they faced the co-hosts. Joao Pinto was slapped with a six-month ban from international football, and both him and Beto missed Portugal’s subsequent games.
Spain had two perfectly good goals disallowed for offside when they faced Korea in the quarters, and the offside flag hindered their progress time and time again.
Perugia owner Luciano Gaucci cancelled Ahn’s contract immediately, saying he had ‘ruined Italian football’, although he later went back on his decision, which Ahn didn’t accept.
He tried to find another club in Europe, but signed for Shimizu S-Pulse in Japan.
Referee Byron Moreno was found guilty of corruption owing to a number of incidents and was suspended for 20 games. Owing to the controversy surrounding the incident, Europe largely forgot Ahn Jung Hwan, and with good reason. Dark forces, it was said, were behind Korea’s success at home.
For him, the Golden Goal turned out to be a lead bullet.
What other moments made it to our list? Find out here: SportsKeeda’s top ten iconic moments in international football
Catch the highlights of that infamous game here: