Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Geordie Cheers for Gabon Underdogs

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Geordie Cheers for Gabon Underdogs

Article excerpt

Byline: Stuart Rayner

FLAG DAY James' Park NORTH Korea's football fans of a certain vintage have fond memories of the North East from the last major global tournament held in this country. As some people learned to their cost this week, their neighbours from the South are an entirely different entity.

Their sole visit to the region ended in a mixture of frustration and relief when the Olympic Games came to Newcastle for the first time yesterday.

Instead, it was left to Gabon to play the role of popular underdogs in an echoey stadium cleansed of its contentious sponsorship logos. After two opening-day draws, they top Group B. Twenty-four hours before Danny the flame was lit on London 2012, Newcastle got to see what all the fuss was about.

Initially, not a lot.

We had to wait until the fifth minute of the second game and a retaken Swiss penalty for a goal.

By then many in the original crowd - an estimated 15,000 - had swapped places with a smaller but equally enthusiastic group following Gabon and Switzerland.

South Korea set the ball rolling with a 0-0 draw against Mexico and, although it was a game they utterly dominated, the Mexicans had two good late chances to win it.

Clean through in the second added minute, Raul Jimenez curled his shot onto the outside of the post, guaranteeing South Korea the very least their efforts deserved.

Tottenham Hotspur striker Giovanni Dos Santos might have denied them even that a few minutes earlier if he had stretched out his right foot rather than his left to knock wide Darvin Chavez's cross.

Mexico had scarcely been in it until then, their opponents belatedly converting dominance into second-half chances after a tepid first 45 some fans seemed to miss most of, presumably because they were negotiating the exhaustive security.

Judging by the rain-soaked queue extending beyond the length of the Gallowgate an hourand-a-half before kick-off, plenty heeded the warning to turn up early.

The latecomers had not missed much. Both teams lacked the attacking verve with which North Korea so excited Ayresome Park at the 1966 World Cup.

Korean captain Koo Jacheol volleyed against the crossbar in the 53rd minute after a flick-on from Arsenal's Park Choyoung, one of the strikers preferred to Sunderland's Ji Dong-won.

Ki Sung-yeung's shot from outside the area was touched wide, Kim Young-gwon headed a corner across goal when he might have been better trying to hit the target.

With former Fulham player Carlos Salcido holding in midfield, and Marco Fabian dropping off Oribe Peralta, Mexico lacked attacking intent until Dos Santos and others were thrown on.

At least there were no diplomatic incidents, the organisers having decided after Wednesday's Hampden Park embarrassment to abandon showing headshots of the players alongside their flag (or in North Korea's case, someone else's) on the specially-installed video board. …

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