South Korea had ‘suspicious’ run to the semi finals of the 2002 World Cup

The 2002 World Cup had some truly iconic moments, Ronaldinho lobbing David Seaman, Senegal beating France and David Beckham's penalty and celebration against Argentina.

It was also the tournament of the underdog with both South Korea and Turkey reaching the semi-finals – though both would lose out to World Cup royalty Germany and Brazil in the end. However, after beating Italy and Spain on their way to the semi-finals, suspicions rose over South Korea's success following some questionable referee decisions.

Much like Qatar in 2022, the decision to even hand South Korea and Japan the World Cup caused major controversy after it was ruled that neither nation had the infrastructure to support the tournament – nor had Japan ever even been at the World Cup.

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FIFA were accused of pandering to political means rather than making a decision based on sporting merit alone while the tournament also raged on during monsoon season, just to add another storm to the teacup.

But nevertheless, the competition went ahead and while Japan crashed out of the first knockout round to Turkey – South Korea enjoyed themselves despite tricky ties against Italy and Spain, though the fallout has since proved somewhat unsavoury.

That is because some of the refereeing decisions made can either be chalked up as absolute buffoonery or downright insidious. Ahn Jung-hwan headed a golden goal past Gianluigi Buffon to win South Korea the match against Italy 2-1.

But Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno allowed a number of what many saw as clear fouls to go by as the Koreans smashed up the Italians – a luxury that was not shared among the Azzurri. Alessandro del Piero was elbowed in the face and Gianluca Zambrotta was two-footed without punishment.

Meanwhile, Francesco Totti was sent off in extra-time for diving when he was chopped down in the box while Damiano Tommasi had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. Afterwards, there was

But it did not end there with South Korea going on to beat Spain on penalties in the next round after neither side could score in normal time. Well, one team did – twice – but the officials chalked them both off.

Egyptian referee Gamal Al-Ghandour was in charge and ruled out Spain's first that had dropped in off Kim Tae Young’s shoulder with Ivan Helguera being adjudged to have pulled his shirt. Harsh but not, in truth, in line with the laws of the game – though there was plenty of shirt-pulling from the South Koreans that went unpunished.

There was no law in the game that should have prevented Fernando Morientes' goal soon after, though, after the linesman insisted that Joaquin – who was simply majestic all game – had put the ball out of play. Replays showed that this was completely wrong – and not even close.

And with offside being called every other minute, Spain simply could not get in the game while the dreaded penalties arrived – while Lee Woon Jae was clearly off his line when he saved Joaquin's effort to send the Koreans into the semi-final.

However, that was where South Korea's 'luck' finally came to an end as Michael Ballack scored the only goal of the match to knock the hosts out 1-0. Brazil, led by Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo, would go on to win the tournament, though, beating the Mannschaft 2-0.


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