Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Soccer: South Africa can learn from South Korea

On the surface, South Africa and South Korea have little in common.

South Korea boasts the most intelligent people on earth, with a national IQ of 106. It is also the world’s most wired country — 95% of homes are connected to broadband — and its people endure the longest work hours of anyone.

South Africa, in turn, dominates HIV and crime figures and boasts the No1 rugby and cricket (ODI) teams internationally. Our lot certainly couldn’t lay claim to being among the hardest working or brightest — just look at government — and Internet connectivity is a joke. Two very different places; two very different peoples.

But where the citizens of South Africa and South Korea converge is their love of soccer. Traditions run deep and fans flock to watch their heroes, be it at FNB Stadium or Incheon Munhak Stadium.

Whether in Seoul or Soweto, big matches are riots of colour and excitement.

South Korea is where South Africa should look for pointers for 2010; not the ministry of sport, whose recent claptrap about Bafana Bafana becoming government-run is the stuff of mad scientists and desperadoes. At least government sentiments were well-placed: we’re about to host the biggest party on the planet but we’re also likely to be the first to shuffle off, long before the music dies. Something urgent must be done.

South Korea had a similar fear when they were awarded the World Cup as co-hosts with Japan for 2002. The Asian country’s soccer was in a mess. Five straight World Cups had failed to yield a single victory. In 2001, they were ranked 42 [Bafana are 71st] in the world. Optimism wasn’t [isn't] in great supply.

The South Koreans, like SA, then went and caught themselves a big fish. His name was Guus Hiddink, the former Real Madrid and Holland coach.

Hiddink came with the proviso that he was his own man who did things his way. His impact was remarkable. In less than two years he produced a splendid team that overwhelmed Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain in the World Cup finals, finally losing to a Michael Ballack goal for Germany in the semifinals.

By Clinton van den Berg.

Go to the rest of his excellent article in the Sunday Times here.

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