What are Kilmarnock doing in Korea?

Royal kick-offs, some boys from Brazil and Fifa executives. Rogan Taylor joins six Scottish football fans at the Korea Cup
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The Independent Online
In South Korea, it is already a well-established tradition that the President, Kim Young Sam, kicks off the football season personally. Young Sam is well named. He's actually in his sixties but looks - and moves - like a 40-year-old.

Exchanging his fine shoes for boots, Korea's foremost politician trips lightly down the stand on to the pitch and engages briefly in a bit of ball juggling a la Michael Knighton before booting the match ball downfield from the centre spot. Now the opening game of the 1995 Korea Cup can begin. The Kilmarnock fans can hardly believe their eyes.

But what were Kilmarnock fans doing in Seoul after a long season in Scotland's Premier Division? Their club was one of eight teams competing in a week- long competition that pitched national sides from Korea, Ecuador, Zambia and Costa Rica against club teams like Mechelen, Trelleborgs and a "Rio Select" squad called "Brazil".

In the opening match, the Korean national team took "Brazil" to the cleaners so comprehensively that there were complaints from Brazilian journalists present that the name of the world champions was being dragged through the dust. The 2-0 scoreline hardly did justice to the home team's superiority, both goals coming from a rising midfield star called Yoo Sang Chul, who ran the game like an Asian Platini.

The second match in a double header was one of those fixtures to roll over the tongue and put away in the memory bank for the pub quiz: Costa Rica versus Kilmarnock. This was a much more even match than the previous one, with the Scottish club coming very close to beating a talented national side.

Kilmarnock could not field their strongest team, having been forced to leave both regular full-backs at home with injuries and losing their best player, the central defender Neil Whitworth, with a broken nose within minutes of the start.

The Scots took an early lead through Paul Wright and briefly led again in the second half with a goal from Stephen Maskrey. With replies from Perez - an undeserved penalty - and Molina, Costa Rica managed a draw. The Kilmarnock fans were disappointed.

But the talk in Seoul surrounding this competition is much more about the big "derby" coming up - Korea versus Japan for the 2002 World Cup. While the Japanese were vigorously pressing their case in England, the Korean FA took the opportunity to push forward its bid, inviting half the Fifa executive members to Seoul.

The Kilmarnock supporters - all six of them - had been duly impressed with Korean facilities, especially the Olympic Stadium in Seoul. Mannie, George, Jimmy and their mates had paid more than pounds 1,500 each to follow their team in this strange competition - a tribute to football's ability to draw its fans to places they would otherwise probably never see.

Things did not go well for the Scots. They led "Brazil" 1-0 with 13 minutes to go, yet lost 2-1 to the not-so-select Rio side. Next they faced a rampant South Korea in the smaller, packed Changwon stadium, needing to win by two clear goals to stay in the competition. It was a very warm, humid evening and Kilmarnock were facing their third game in five days. The Scots admirably held their own to go in 1-1 at half time, but in the second half they wilted in the sticky conditions and the home team ran out 5- 1 winners.

This year's Korea Cup produced some fine games. Ecuador gave Zambia a bit of a tanning, 4-1 and beat Costa Rica in the semi-finals; Mechelen fought out a 2-2 draw with the well-organised Trelleborgs.

However, none of the club sides made it beyond the preliminaries. The Koreans collapsed against Zambia in their semi final, losing 3-2, but the Africans lost 1-0 to Ecuador in the final. The Koreans won't be too worried about this failure though. The one they really want to win is against Japan, and it looks like Fifa will decide the result early next year.