Former Korea manager Kim Jung-nam looks back at the 1986 World Cup
The 2022 Qatar World Cup in November will mark Korea’s 10th consecutive appearance at the top global football tournament.
Korea is only the sixth country to make it to 10 consecutive World Cups, following teams like Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Spain.
The start of this feat traces back to 1986 at the Mexico World Cup, when Korea earned the right to compete at the World Cup for only the second time in the country’s history, after the 1954 Switzerland World Cup.
At the Mexico World Cup, only 24 countries were able to advance from the qualifiers, eight less than the current 32, of which only two spots were given to Asian teams.
Korea was then placed in Group A, considered the toughest group at the tournament as it contained Argentina, Bulgaria and Italy.
Korea was unable to win a single match at the World Cup, but did pick up a very memorable goal. On June 2, 1986, Park Chang-sun scored against eventual champions Argentina in a 3-1 loss.
The South American powerhouse was led by footballing legend Diego Maradona, then a 25-year-old superstar in his prime, who was trying to make up for Argentina’s early exit from the 1982 World Cup.
The visibly nervous Korean squad allowed two goals in the first half as manager Kim Jung-nam decided to focus on marking Maradona, a strategy which freed up other players on the Argentinian squad. Kim ordered Huh Jung-moo to shadow Maradona, and Huh used every trick the rule book allowed to slow the gifted midfielder.
With the 2022 World Cup not just two months away, the JoongAng Ilbo recently sat down with former manager Kim to look back 36 years on the tournament that really marked Korea’s arrival on the global football stage.
Q. What happened at the Asian qualifiers ahead of the 1986 World Cup?
A. I took over after Korea lost against Malaysia in the first Asian qualifier and Moon Jeong-sik resigned. It wasn’t particularly promising, losing the first match. But we had a good squad, they were passionate, tried hard and had great concentration. I consider myself lucky to have worked with a squad like that. We went on to win every single qualifier from then on and earned our spot at the World Cup.
Q. Tell us about being placed in Group A with Argentina, Italy and Bulgaria.
A. To tell the truth, we were very worried. Argentina was considered a serious trophy candidate and they eventually won. Italy were the defending champions and Bulgaria was also a strong team. We thought, if we lose, we lose, but we will try our best not to lose with a big goal difference.
Q. What are your memories of that Argentina match?
A. We had never seen Argentina play before, we didn’t even know all the players’ names back then. Every World Cup has an official ball with a specific design but we didn’t get to practice with the ball until the actual World Cup. It was me and coach Kim Ho-kon, we didn’t even have a coach for the goalkeeper back then. It’s almost meaningless to compare it to the national team now where there’s 20 or so coaches.
At the time, we were not sure if Bundesliga player Cha Bum-kun would be part of the squad. It had been a long time since Cha played an international match in the national team as he had been abroad for quite some time and was accustomed to European football. At first, Cha did not work well with the national team’s style of play. But during the match, because the Argentinian team had marked Cha, other players were able to move around more easily.
As for the match against Argentina, I thought we were in for a big defeat because we conceded two goals at the start of the match. Then, as soon as the second half started, we conceded another one. I was worried that it might be 10-0, but thankfully deeper into the second half we got better. Park Chang-sun’s screamer revitalized the team. We regained our confidence.
Q. What was Park Chang-sun’s goal like?
A. Park has always been good at shooting and scoring from the mid range and I saw that his impact was on point that time too, although I didn’t think that he would have actually scored. We scored four goals and conceded seven at the World Cup. I think we did our best.
Q. What does the Mexico World Cup mean to you?
A. It was a difficult situation, we didn’t have any information about the opponents so we could not analyze them. But also, compared to now, we did not have much international experience or financial support. We were willing to fight tooth and nail and I think that’s what brought us the results. I think that the Mexico World Cup provided the basis for Korea’s semifinal finish at the 2002 World Cup and the national team reaching 10 straight World Cups.
BY JUNG YOUNG-JAE, YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]