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3 Things to Know Before South Korea Enters Asian Cup Semifinals

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

It has been a bumpy ride, but the South Korean men’s national soccer team is entering the semifinals of the 2015 Asian Cup on a four-game win streak, during which it hasn’t conceded a single goal.

Korea scored just one goal in each of its three games in the group stages, but scraped through with 1-0 wins every time thanks to a combination of luck, desperate defending and goalkeeping heroics from Kim Jin-hyeon. Beating Oman and Kuwait were more difficult than expected, and although the gritty win over hosts Australia was plausible, the Koreans endured a lengthy spell of domination from their rivals. In the quarterfinals, Korea needed extra time to edge past Uzbekistan, a team it hasn’t lost to since 1994.

Aiming to win its first continental title in 55 years, Korea is set to face Iraq in the semifinals on Monday in Sydney. The winning team will then play against either Austrailia or UAE in the final match, which airs on Saturday, Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. PT.

Here are three things you should know about the Taegeuk Warriors as they prepare for the semifinals game.

1. Korea is playing without two of its key players.

Korea’s German head coach Uli Stielike has long made it clear that he considers five players on the current team as its nucleus–Son Heung-min, Ki Sung-yueng, Park Joo-ho, Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-cheol. Unfortunately for Stielike, he will now have to lead Korea without two of those five players for the remainder of the tournament.

Right winger Lee has been ruled out after sustaining a hairline fracture in his right leg from a vicious tackle made by an Omani player during Korea’s first match. In addition, attacking midfielder Koo tore a ligament in his elbow after falling and landing on his arm in a game against Australia.

Players Nam Tae-hee and Han Kyo-won, will most likely have to step up to fill the void of Lee, the two-time World Cup veteran, and Koo, who captained Korea’s bronze medal team at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

2. With rivals Japan and Iran eliminated, the stars are now aligned for Korea.

Two weeks ago in a preview story about the Asian Cup, I mentioned that Korea would have to overcome Japan and Iran to complete its mission of winning the continental title for the first time since 1960. Things have just gotten a lot easier for Korea as both Japan and Iran were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Iraq and UAE, respectively.

After failing to beat Japan in nearly five years and Iran in four years, Korea is now left with Iraq in the semifinals, which seems to look favorable for the Korean team. If Korea manages to win the semifinals, then it will either face Australia, a team it has previously beaten, or UAE, which has only secured two wins against Korea in the last 19 head-to-head matchups.

3. As expected, Cha Du-ri is the difference maker.

I also predicted in the aforementioned preview article that the 34-year-old fullback Cha Du-ri may just be the X-factor if Korea finally wins the Asian title. Set to retire from international soccer after the Asian Cup, Cha’s speed on the right flank has lifted Korea in decisive moments.

Against Kuwait, Cha dribbled past two defenders from the right wing and picked out a perfect cross for Nam Tae-hee’s goal, clinching Korea’s berth in the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals game versus Uzbekistan, Cha’s furious 60-yard run sparked a counterattack that Son Heung-min finished off to seal Korea’s 2-0 win.

Since the Uzbekistan game, a video of Bae Sung-jae, the play-by-play announcer for South Korean TV network SBS famously saying, “Why in the world did a player like this work as a broadcaster during the World Cup?” went viral among Korean soccer fans. Cha had worked alongside Bae in the broadcast booth as a color commentator during the 2014 World Cup after he was controversially dropped from Korea’s final roster. Bae’s viral comment sparked further criticism on former head coach Hong Myung-bo for excluding Cha from last summer’s roster.

South Korea will play against Iraq in the semifinals on Monday, Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. PT.

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Featured photo courtesy of ESPNFC.com

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South Korea, Japan and U.S. to Share Intel on North Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

South Korea, Japan and the U.S. will sign their first joint intelligent-sharing pact on Dec. 29 to better prepare and respond to the increasing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, reports the Associated Press.

Although the U.S. currently has separate, bilateral intelligence-sharing pacts with South Korea and Japan, the two Asian countries do not have such agreements, partly due to the unresolved tensions stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. In 2012, Seoul and Tokyo almost signed an intelligence-sharing pact, but it was ultimately scrapped after public uproar in South Korea.

Under the new trilateral agreement, South Korea and Japan would share intelligence only on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, with the U.S. serving as the mediator, according to a statement from Seoul’s Defense Ministry.

“We believe that the arrangement will be very effective in deterring the communist country from launching provocations in the first place,” a ministry official told Yonhap. “The cooperation between the three nations is expected to boost the quality of the intelligence on North Korea, which will enable the allies to respond to possible provocations in a swifter fashion.”

The agreement comes after Pyongyang’s recent threat to carry out nuclear strikes in protest of a United Nations resolution on the regime’s human rights abuses. North Korea has also threatened to retaliate against the U.S. over Sony Pictures’ satirical comedy The Interview.

The vice defense ministers of South Korea, Japan and the U.S. will formally sign the trilateral pact on Monday.

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Photo courtesy of AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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South Koreans Consume the Most Ramen in the World

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

The convenience of Korean instant ramen makes the dish a favorite among college students, single folk and the lazy alike, but there may be such a thing as too convenient.

South Koreans consumed the most ramen (ramyun or ramyeon) per person in the world last year, according to a study by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the World Instant Noodles Association (WINA). The average Korean eats 74.1 servings ramen per year, followed by Vietnamese people, who consume about 60.3 servings a year. Indonesia, China and Hong Kong round out the top five out of a total 15 countries in the study.

Japan did not make the top five list for ramen servings per person, but they do consume the third-most amount of ramen as a country. Meanwhile, Hong Kong and China come in first place, followed by Indonesia Japan, and Vietnam. South Korea came in seventh in overall consumption.

According to the study, Koreans are also the most likely to purchase ramen at a convenience store: 25.6 percent of shoppers purchase ramen. Nongshim Shin Ramyun has been the most popular brand for four years, followed by Jjapaguri, Neoguri and Samyang Ramyun. The ramenritto, the ramen grilled cheese sandwich, the ramen pizza and the infamous ramen burger still have a ways to go to catch up.

The study also provided a number of interesting tidbits about ramen in general: From 2008 to 2013, South Korean ramen exports increased 64 percent, and cup ramen production increased 67 percent compared to 26.5 percent for bagged instant ramen in the same time period.

If you’re in the mood for Korean ramen, check out blogger Hans Lienesch’s list of Top 10 South Korean Instant Noodles for a few hearty recommendations.

Photo courtesy of Soompi

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South Korea Refuses to Share 2018 Winter Olympics with Japan

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

South Korea announced Friday that it will not share its right to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang with Japan after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suggested the idea of co-hosting to reduce cost.

IOC officials proposed the option of hosting bobsled and luge events of the 2018 Games in Japan to Pyeongchang’s organizing committee and recommended utilizing existing facilities rather than pouring resources into building new ones. This proposal sparked an angry response from South Koreans, many of whom still resent Japan over conflicting views on politics and history.

“There was no possibility of moving some events overseas, as the IOC suggested to Pyeongchang,” Cho Yang-ho, chairman of the Pyeongchang organizing commitee, said in a statement, according to the New York Times. “It was difficult for Pyeongchang to adopt [the IOC’s ideas] because the construction for all game venues has already started.”

The IOC’s proposal to South Korea came on Monday after its landmark decision to allow host cities of the Olympic Games to move competitions to towns in nearby countries in order to prevent potential bidders for future events from going into further debt. The Russian city of Sochi’s total budget of $51 billion for the 2014 Games has reportedly scared off potential bidders.

Although the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s estimated cost of the Pyeongchang Games is at $10 billion, the IOC suggested that utilizing the facilities in Nagano, Japan, which hosted the 1998 Games could save billions for Pyeongchang.

In 2002, FIFA made the unprecedented decision to allow South Korea and Japan to co-host the World Cup. The rivalry between the two countries was so fierce that it caused serious organizational and logistical problems. As a result, FIFA officially banned co-hosting bids in 2004. It’s safe to say that co-hosting the Winter Games with Japan will create similar conflicts as the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Photo courtesy of Snowalps.com

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‘Hate Speech’ Debate Gets Ugly, Osaka Mayor and Anti-Korean Leader Hurl Insults

by REERA YOO

A debate on hate speech between Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and an anti-Korean group leader nearly ended in a brawl as security guards were forced to separate the two men on Monday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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Hashimoto agreed to debate Makoto Sakurai, the chairman of the Zaitokukai group, which is notorious for campaigning against “privileges” for ethnic Korean residents in Japan, such as the right to vote and access to welfare.

The debate was held amid rising concerns over incidents of hate speech towards Japan’s Korean population, which the Zaitokukai group has often instigated by holding rallies in Korean neighborhoods.

Within seconds of the debate, the two men began fighting over how they should address each other as Sakurai continued to use the disrespectful Japanese version of the word “you” to refer to the mayor.

Hashimoto, clearly irritated by his opponent’s lack of honorifics, replied, “Lumping together races and nationalities together and judging them — I want people to cut it out with those kind of statements.”

“So, you want people to stop criticizing Koreans at all?” Sakurai countered.

This comment caused Hashimoto to also abandon honorifics, calling Sakurai “annoying” and a “nuisance.” The two men then rose from their seats and took strides towards each other before being escorted back to their seats by security guards.

The scheduled 30-minute debate lasted less than 10 minutes.

The exchange abruptly ended with Sakurai firing insults at Hashimoto as the mayor prepared to leave the room with his security detail. However, Hashimoto did manage to land one final insult at Sakurai by tellling him, “We don’t need racists like you in Osaka.”

The YouTube video of the heated exchange attracted over 700,000 views.

According to the Guardian, the U.N. Human Rights Committee called on Japan to enact legislation to firmly address growing incidents of hate speech and racism against ethnic Koreans in August.

Photo courtesy of Kyodo via The Japan Times

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Japan Soccer Coach Wants To “Take Asian Games Away From Korea On Their Own Turf”

by STEVE HAN

South Korean under-23 men’s soccer team is vying for a gold medal at the Asian Games for the first time in 28 years, but it will have to overcome arch rival Japan in the quarterfinal match on Sunday to have a shot at achieving the ultimate goal in Incheon next week.

Host nation South Korea advanced to the quarterfinals after beating Hong Kong 3-0 on Thursday in the round of 16. Led by head coach Lee Kwang-jong, the team won all four matches in the tournament so far and has yet to concede a goal. But Japan will pose the biggest threat for the Korea, which hasn’t faced serious competition thus far as its opponents included minnows such as Laos and Malaysia.

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“I wanted to play South Korea here,” Japan head coach Makoto Teguramori told Kyodo News. “It doesn’t get any better than this. I mean, imagine what it would be like if Japan took the tournament away from Korea on their own turf. I can sense how badly Korea want to win this competition … We’ve got to be prepared mentally. We cannot allow ourselves to get beaten mentally.”

Since 2002, teams are only allowed to include players younger than 23 for men’s soccer at the Asian Games. FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, levies the age cap on international tournaments sanctioned by organizations other than itself (including the Summer Olympic Games) as part of its plan to make the World Cup the most glamorous soccer event in the world. As a compromise, men’s soccer teams at both the Asian Games and the Olympics, both organized by the IOC, can have up to three players over 23.

Although the age cap is at 23, the entire Japanese roster consists of players aged 21 or younger as Teguramori wants the less heralded Asian Games as something of a dress rehearsal for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Japan also played at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China with its under-21 team, consisting of players who would still be young enough to satisfy the age limit at the Olympics in 2012, and still impressively managed to win the competition.

Unlike Japan, no player in South Korea’s roster is younger than 22. Additionally, head coach Lee further emphasized his “win now” mentality by even utilizing all three of his over-aged player slots with those who represented Korea’s senior national team at this past summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Taking the all-or-nothing approach at the expense of drawing a larger picture for the bigger tournament in the Olympics remains a hotly debated topic for Korean soccer fans.

However, such a decision for the Koreans is also the most suitable way to accommodate their most talented players from obtaining military exemption, which is granted to all of South Korea’s gold medalists at the Asian Games. Many believe that the country’s 21-month compulsory military service for all able-bodied male citizens is detrimental to the development of young athletes whose careers are generally short-lived compared to other professions.

Image courtesy of KPPA

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After Calling Japan “Easy,” Korean Soccer’s Whiz Kid Keeps His Word

by STEVE HAN

Days before the quarterfinal game against Japan, South Korean soccer’s 16-year-old prodigy Lee Seung-woo said that the rival team is “easily beatable” because he said he felt that “a team at the level of Japan” couldn’t be all that difficult to topple.

In the pivotal game in which a berth in next year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup was at stake, Lee kept his word by lifting Korea’s under-16 national team past Japan with a 2-0 win. The stylish teenager, who scored both goals for Korea, demolished Japan’s defense with his individual skills and no shortage of swagger. After the game, even Lee’s opponents admitted that he was simply unplayable.

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“It felt like we were outnumbered [when Lee had the ball],” said Tomiyasu Takehiro, Japan’s defender who was tasked with marking Lee during the game. “The only way to stop him was to commit the worst fouls possible. Our defense just couldn’t react.”

Japan began the game by playing its traditional short passing, possession soccer which kept Lee quietly isolated for much of the first half. But in the 42nd minute, Lee played a cheeky give-and-go pass with Kim Jung-min before scoring easily to give Korea the lead.

But it was Lee’s second goal of the game that showed just why he is touted by fans and media alike as Korea’s brightest ever prospect and perhaps also why the Spanish giants FC Barcelona signed the youngster three years ago when he was just 13 years old.

Lee collected the ball deep in South Korea’s defensive half, but in a matter of seconds, he left five Japanese defenders in dust and even dribbled past the goalkeeper to score on an open net at the other end of the field.

“Our tactic was to defend and then attack because we have a genius player in Lee Seung-woo,” Korean head coach Choi Jin-cheul said, according to Asian Football Confederation’s official website. “When he plays and trains all the other players look at him and follow him so he enhances our playing style as he is good for the other players.”

Since 2011, Lee has been dazzling in the youth ranks of Barcelona, Spain’s iconic professional soccer team. Over the years, Barcelona has produced some of the world’s best players, including Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, through its renowned youth academy, famously named La Masia, which literally translates to “farmhouse” in Spanish. Barcelona signed Lee after spotting him in an international youth tournament in South Africa in 2010.

In Europe, it is the professional sports teams that progressively develop young athletes by operating youth teams for different age groups, unlike in the U.S., where student-athletes represent their respective academic institutions until they’re old and talented enough to play professionally. Although the European system is comparable to Major League Baseball’s farm system in the U.S., the age group for youth soccer teams in Europe start from children as young as 4 or 5 years old.

At Barcelona’s youth academy at which Lee is considered as one of the best up-and-coming talents, only a few players who graduate the development program eventually make its senior team. But although some graduates may not make the cut at the senior level for Barcelona, many who show enough talent to graduate its academy have gone on to other top teams in Europe to establish respectable careers. Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta couldn’t find a place in Barcelona’s senior team after graduating from La Masia in 2001, but he now plays for Arsenal, one of the best teams in Europe and England.

Photo courtesy of Asian Football Confederation

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SKorea

SKorea Wins Little League World Series Championship

by JAMES S. KIM

It’s called Little League, but if the 2014 Little League World Series tournament showed us anything, it’s that there’s nothing small about the heart, hard work and sportsmanship these kids bring to the ballpark.

With his team down 8-1 in the top of the sixth and final inning of the World Series championship game on Sunday, Illinois pitcher Trey Hondras nailed South Korea’s Dong Wan Sin in the helmet with a pitch. As Sin made his way over to first base, Hondras went over to apologize to the player, and the two competitors shook hands.

South Korea would go on to win the game 8-4 and capture the 2014 Little League World Series championship—their first since going back-to-back in 1985, but it was moments like this one that stood out during the tournament.

A day earlier, South Korea knocked out Japan, the reigning World Series champions, in dominant fashion, 12-3. After Japan won their third-place game against Nevada before Korea and Illinois took the field, many of the Japanese players stayed to cheer on Korea, donning blue shirts with the South Korean flag on them. You probably won’t ever see that outside of Little League.

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Sunday’s game wasn’t as much of a cakewalk for the South Koreans, but it was still more of the same: dominant pitching and a rock-steady offense. They led the game from the start, plating their first run on an RBI double by Jae Yeong Hwang in the first inning. After Korea scored another in the top of the third, Illinois finally got themselves on the board with a run in the bottom of the inning off of pitcher Jae Yeong Hwang.

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In the top of the sixth, South Korea doubled their 4-1 advantage by scoring four runs, capped by Hae Chan Choi’s home run. They would need every single one of them, because as it goes in Little League, there is no such thing as too much offense–until the mercy rule takes over.

Illinois made things interesting in the final inning, knocking two straight base hits off of Choi, who had taken over pitching duties. With runners on second and third with one out, Darion Radcliff singled in both, and a hit and two passed balls allowed another to score.

Choi struck out Brandon Green, and after walking the next batter, he finally got clean-up hitter Ed Howard to ground into a force out to secure the win and championship.

Team

After the celebrations were said and done, the players from both teams lined up to shake hands. And to start off the line was an awkward, yet probably one of the more heartwarming handshakes you will ever see.

Bat flips, home runs and all that stuff aside, that’s pretty cool.

Images via ESPN

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