North Korea’s Ji Yun-nam captured the world’s imagination with his late strike against Brazil
THE second loudest cheer of the Finals greeted Ji Yun-Nam’s mazy run into the Brazil penalty area before the North Korean put an unstoppable shot past Caesar into the Brazilian goal. In England there is nothing we like more than seeing David put one over Goliath. Nothing, that is, apart from seeing England score, themselves – the loudest cheer of the finals.
The Scots, meanwhile, like nothing more than seeing opponents put one over the English. You can be sure that Green’s howler was celebrated as much in the pubs of Glasgow as in the bars of New York.
So the diminutive North Korean midfielder enters the annals of famous World Cup underdogs, joining the likes of Gaetjens and Rahn. Who? Precisely. We all remember the stars of the show, but who recalls the supporting cast.
Arguably the greatest ever World Cup upset came in 1950 when the USA beat England 1-0 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. At the time the ‘Kings of Football’ had the temerity to leave Stanley Matthews – the Ronaldo of the time – on the bench. The Americans who included teachers, postal workers and dishwashers in their ranks, had lost their previous seven international matches by an aggregate total of 45-2. Even their coach admitted they had “no chance”. But the one chance they did have was taken by Joe Gaetjens, a Columbia University student at the time.
The result hardly registered. The Americans only had one journalist at the finals, Dent McSkimming of the St Louis Post-Dispatch who took time off work to cover the game. Back in England the result was treated with total disbelief. Many newspapers even reported the score as being 10-1 or 10-0 to England, assuming that the actual score was a typo.
But Gaetjens’ moment of fame pales in comparison with Helmut Rahn’s achievement.
The man the Germans called The Boss scored twice in the 1954 final for West Germany to beat Hungary 3-2 in the ‘Miracle of Berne’. Although the current Germans might be one of the favourites for the 2010 crown, back in 1954 the country was still recovering from World War II, and football was very much at a formative stage. The Germans even lost 8-3 to the Hungarians in the group stage, with Rahn netting a consolation goal.
Totally unfancied in the final, the Germans went 2-0 down in the first eight minutes before mounting a comeback which culminated in Rahn’s 84th-minute winner.
So let Ji enjoy his five minutes of fame. History will probably judge the 2010 finals to be Messi’s or Kaka’s, or maybe even Rooney’s, but certainly not Ji Yun-Nam’s. For now, what has been a largely lifeless tournament so far was briefly illuminated by the man from Pyongyang and his unbridled joy in scoring a goal against the five-time world champions.