The second match in Group C of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 on 17 September was an historic event. Never before had Korea DPR and the USA met in a FIFA competition, and it is the Americans who will retain fonder memories of the occasion after winning the physical contest and the match. Beaten though they may have been, the Asian side demonstrated remarkable depths of mental strength and can be expected to trouble Côte d'Ivoire in their next game with a little more efficiency in front of goal. The challenge awaiting the Americans, meanwhile, will be the struggle for top spot in the group against Italy.
Most observers expected the experienced USA team (participants in all 11 editions of the competition) to quickly impose their rhythm on the newcomers from Korea DPR (first appearance). And so it proved. After a series of erratic headers in the Korean box, Ryan Soroka gained possession of the ball and buried it from point-blank range to give his side the lead with only 13 minutes on the clock (0-1, 13').
After that opening flurry, the match calmed down, most likely due to the appearance of the sun over Chiclayo. If so, American goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner had perhaps taken a premature siesta because, hampered by one of his own defenders, he fumbled a tame cross into the feet of Myong Ho Choe, who needed no invitation to level the scores (1-1, 24'). The PSG California man would soon make up for his error, though, making a miraculous save from Chol Ung Kim, after the Korean found himself just three metres out following a good run from Hung Ryong Ri. The ball rolled tantalisingly along the goal-line before being cleared to safety (25').
Rueckner excelled soon afterwards as well, this time parrying a testing shot on the turn from Kuk Jin Kim (31'). The Americans were being pushed to the limit by their vivacious opponents, and their busy goalkeeper had to come to the rescue again moments later to prevent a header from Ri sailing high into the net (33'). The stars and stripes seemed to be living on borrowed time, and while Preston Zimmerman (16') and David Arvizu (19') had shown themselves to be dangerous at the other end earlier in the match, they had now become almost invisible.
Koreans show imagination
Just when their situation looked dire, however, John Hackworth's charges clawed their way back into the lead. They won an indirect free-kick in the area for a high foot and the most Asian of the American players, Kyle Nakazawa, converted the chance to leave the Koreans trailing once more (1-2, 43').
The second half was a tight affair, with the two teams neutralising each others' efforts almost perfectly. And it took a quick Korean break down the left followed by a cross-shot from Ri that barely missed the target to reawaken the capacity Chiclayo crowd (58'). "They played just like our coach told us they would. So we were able to deal with them pretty well even though they did cause us a few problems" said Preston Zimmerman after the game.
The Koreans were more imaginative than their rivals but crucially failed to turn their ideas into clear-cut opportunities. The longer the game went on, the more their inferior fitness levels came into the equation and, with 72 minutes gone, they succumbed. A mix-up following a corner proved fatal as Zimmerman turned on the penalty spot and cracked his shot past the helpless Kwang Min Ju (1:3, 72'). "I was inside the box, I didn't have much space so I just hit it and it went in" said the blond-haired marksman.
That looked like being the beginning of the end for a Korean team suffering exhaustion, yet Tong Sop Jo's players are made of strong stuff mentally. After a string of chances, they finally pulled themselves back into the match when Kuk Jin Kim turned in a corner to set up a tense finale (2-3, 86'). There was to be no dramatic comeback, however, despite a brave late search for the equaliser. The Americans ultimately held firm to join Italy at the top of the table, and Hackworth's side must now prepare to meet the Azzurri on 20 September to decide who takes first place in the group. The Koreans have no more room for error and must beat Côte d'Ivoire to stay in the competition.
Hackworth was happy enough with the result even though it was hard-won: "It was our first game and we've got 3 points. That's the main thing. There are a lot of things we can improve on though. The lads were nervous which is pretty normal. But we took our chances and defended well. But we'll need to play better against Italy" he said after the match.
Tong Sop Jo was philosophical in defeat. "We're here to learn. We had a long trip to get here and my players are tired. I'm hoping we'll play better in our next game" he said.