- Our image captures the most sporting match in World Cup history
- ‘We are friends,’ read a banner nobody expected
- The sportsmanship reduced some players to tears
Even before kick-off, Korea Republic’s fans had set the tone, unfurling a large Turkish flag and a banner proclaiming: "We are friends!" Those supporters proved true to their warm words, too, cheering the names of the opposing players as well as their own as the teams were read out in Daegu.
Their reward was an enthralling, open and historic third-place play-off, and glowing tributes from the wowed Turkish visitors. Coach Senol Gunes led that chorus of praise, lauding as “absolutely fantastic" the sportsmanship displayed, and the atmosphere generated, by the 63,000 crowd.
The same compliment could well have been paid to Gunes’s team, both in the match in question and throughout a memorable 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ campaign. Turkey even succeeded in pulling off the seemingly impossible – silencing that boisterous Korean support – inside 11 seconds when Hakan Sukur scored the fastest goal in World Cup history.
Sukur, who had failed to score in six previous matches at the tournament, then added to his strike with two assists for Ilhan Mansiz as Turkey grabbed a 3-2 win, marking the high point in Turkish football history. ''My team,” said their proud coach, “gave Turks hope and happiness.”
Korea Republic had made history too, of course, achieving a record finish thanks to stunning successes against the likes of Portugal, Italy and Spain. ''I would've liked to get third place – desperately,'' their Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, said after the defeat to Turkey. “But when I see and hear the public reacting to the team and what they did in the second half, I can be very proud in general of these guys.''
The fans themselves continued to draw many of the plaudits, and players from both sides came together – as shown in this image – to perform a collective bow in recognition of their contribution. Sukur and team-mate Fatih Akyel also carried the Korea Republic flag on a lap of honour, while the Turkish media were as generous in their praise of the home supporters as they were of their conquering team.
"Our Korean friends gave a perfect lesson in fair play,” was the tribute paid by one newspaper, Milliyet. “The images of friendship were incredible. You could see huge Turkish and South Korean flags spread together. Good moves from the Turkish team or Korean team were applauded. The friendly atmosphere continued even after the match. Players of both teams were saluting the crowds hand in hand, arm in arm. Such friendliness brought tears to the eyes of our players."
Beyond that, it provided yet another example of the unparalleled capacity of football, and the World Cup, to inspire and unite.
Did you know?
Korea Republic legend Ahn Junghwan recently visited the FIFA World Football Museum, enjoying several of the interactive displays and reliving his famous 2002 Golden Goal against Italy.