South Korea Is the Odd Team Out

Times Staff Writer

If South Korean fans today want to blame anyone or anything for their team's World Cup exit, they can blame Arsenal.

It was a player from the north London club, Switzerland defender Philippe Senderos, who stuck the first stake in the Koreans' hopes.

It was a former Arsenal player, France midfielder Patrick Vieira, who dealt the second blow. And it was Arsenal's highest-profile player, France striker Thierry Henry, who finished off matters.

First, some perspective. Watching Switzerland play South Korea at Hanover's World Cup Stadium here Friday night really required two pairs of eyes.

One to watch the game below. The other to keep track of the TV monitor showing France's game against Togo in Cologne.

The Swiss, the Koreans and the French all had the chance of advancing. Only two could do so.

If Switzerland and South Korea tied, they would both go through as long as France did not win by two or more goals. If the Swiss defeated the Koreans, or vice versa, and France won by whatever score, the winner would go through along with the French.

Switzerland applied the first twist in the tale, scoring in the 23rd minute on a powerful header by defender Senderos, who climbed high at the far post to direct a free kick by Hakan Yakin past goalkeeper Lee Woon Jae while holding off defender Choi Jin Cheul.

Arsenal's Senderos and Choi clashed heads on the play, and both had to come off for treatment -- Senderos for stitches and Choi for a large bandage and a net cap.

Undeterred, both carried on, but no more goals came in the first 45 minutes. In Cologne, meanwhile, France was having its own problems scoring. That game was 0-0 at the half.

Then, to groans in Hanover from the Korean faithful, France scored twice inside six minutes against Togo, first from Vieira and then from Henry off a Vieira pass, to put itself on course for the last 16.

Not intimidated by the physically more powerful Swiss players, the Koreans gave as good as they received. Their fans -- the loudest and most supportive in the World Cup by a long margin -- kept up their encouragement to the end.

But it was not to be, especially after Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo and his assistants blew a clear offside call and allowed Alexander Frei's goal to stand in the 77th minute. Replays showed Frei was half a step ahead of the Korean defensive line when the pass was made.

Switzerland won, 2-0.

It was a sad ending for the Red Devils, who had finished fourth when they were co-hosts of the 2002 World Cup with Japan.

France went on to win, 2-0, and also advanced to the round of 16, with the Swiss winning Group G on goal difference.

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