Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Soccer Minnows Are Devouring the Favored Fish ; South Korea Upset No. 5 Ranked Italy in the World Cup Yesterday. Why? the Home-Field Factor

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Soccer Minnows Are Devouring the Favored Fish ; South Korea Upset No. 5 Ranked Italy in the World Cup Yesterday. Why? the Home-Field Factor

Article excerpt

Soccer's mighty are falling, one after another. France. Portugal. Argentina. And now Italy.

Korea's stunning victory yesterday over No. 5 seeded Italy is yet another sign that nothing can be taken for granted in the 2002 World Cup finals.

In terms of upsetting the prognosticators, the official rankings, and the number of goals scored, this is proving to be a finals like no other - with the greatest surprises of all coming from the two hosts who have shown just how big an advantage it is to play at home.

The international soccer federation (FIFA) rankings, which are supposed to show the relative strengths of national teams, have been turned on their heads. The reigning champion, France, was the first to fall. Then, No. 2 Argentina. Both went in the first round.

Meanwhile, soccer minnows, South Korea (ranked No. 40) and Japan (ranked No. 32) won their respective groups and knocked out powerhouse Portugal (No. 4) and Russia in the process - with a little help, of course, from the United States and Belgium.

Yesterday, Japan finally succumbed to Turkey's national team, 1- O.

But to understand just how impressive it is for both host teams to get this far, one must look at their records.

Japan has previously qualified for only one World Cup finals - France in 1998, which the team quickly left after three straight defeats in which it could only manage one goal.

South Korea has a longer history, but never in its four previous World Cup final appearances has it won a game, let alone progressed beyond the initial stages. This time, though, both teams bagged an impressive number of goals, and won plaudits for their style and commitment.

So what has happened? In part, it is because the two nations have invested heavily in the sport. In part, it is because their rivalry with one another has driven them to previously undreamed of levels of play. …

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