Asian World Cup hopefuls clash: Japan and South Korea have pride to lose in bid to host the 2002 tournament

IN BRAZIL, the parties for last week's World Cup victory are still going strong. The French, who failed even to qualify, are trying to motivate themselves for the 1998 tournament, which they are hosting.

But the real battle is in Asia - mainly between Japan and South Korea, with China on the fringe. The prize is the honour of holding the 2002 tournament, the first outside the Americas or Europe.

Joao Havelange, president of governing body Fifa, would like the first World Cup of the 21st century to be held in Asia. He has repeatedly said in public that he looks favourably on Japan's chances, though he has stopped short of endorsing Tokyo's candidacy. Fifa will make the final decision in 1996.

Japan had been regarded as the easy favourite, at least until last October. 'There is no way the Japanese won't get the World Cup,' Gary Lineker, the former England and Spurs star who signed a lucrative two-year contract with Nagoya Grampus Eight, told the Independent last year. Tokyo had money and influence, and was ready to spend as much as it took to publicise its bid, to lobby Fifa delegates, to build the necessary stadiums and to host the competition. Then came the qualifying games for this year's contest.

Japan had two aims: to qualify, and to stop South Korea, their only serious rival in Asia, from holding the 2002 tournament. 'Beat South Korea' became a national motto. At first things went well: Japan won 1-0 when the sides met in Qatar last October, and the South Koreans went into national mourning. 'The worst humiliation since the 1910 annexation by Japan,' their newspapers reported.

Japan then went on to play Iraq, needing a win to qualify for the US finals. Until the 89th minute, they were 2-1 up, but in the final seconds of the game the Iraqis scored the equaliser, effectively putting Japan out of the Cup and letting in South Korea. The imported Dutch manager of the Japanese national team, Hans Ooft, promptly resigned; in another era he would have been expected to have fallen on his sword, so great was the upset.

In the US, the South Koreans went on to acquit themselves respectably, with two draws and one loss in their group. Suddenly Japan's challenge to host the 2002 Cup was put in the shade.

Seoul argued that Japan, despite all its money and publicity effort, had still not earned its studs in the actual game of football: South Korea had qualified for the past three World Cups in a row - three times more than Japan.

The battleground was laid. Earlier this year, Havelange attempted to avoid a full-scale confrontation by floating the idea that Japan and Korea could jointly host the 2002 event - the main cities of the two countries are in many cases closer to each other than some of the US venues were. But with their history of mutual animosity and wartime memories, neither the Japanese nor the Koreans were interested in sharing the Cup: it is all or nothing for both sides.

The battle reflects the overall struggle for economic power in Asia: Japan, the second largest economy in the world, master of electronics and manufacturing technology, pitted against South Korea, Asia's second most dynamic economy, less rich but more dogged and persevering.

On the touchline is China, which will also bid for the 2002 World Cup, but its football, like its economy, is still in the early stages of development.

To some, football may be just a game, but between Tokyo and Seoul it has come to involve national pride, political and economic prestige, and cultural virility. May the best nation win.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine