Huh! Martial arts, not soccer!
Posted: 4 January 2010 Time: 13:37
In his heyday, Argentine legend Maradona was the most feared, and consequently, the most marked midfielder in the game.
It was often a thankless and unpleasant job, marking the Argentine wizard, but someone had to do it.
One of these sturdy enforcers, who instantly gained criticism for his no-nonsense bone-crunching tackles, was Huh Jung-moo, the current South Korean national team coach, who was assigned to mark Maradona in the 1986 Fifa World Cup in Mexico.
The Taeguk Warriors lost 3-1 in the opening match but not before Huh had acquitted himself with bone-crunching slides, which kept Maradona, somewhat, in check.
The bundle of energy in the light blue and white was constantly on Huh’s radar and discouraged from scoring with his martial arts style of rough defence.
It must have been some wall Maradona ran smack into because the player, who is still considered by some as the greatest player on earth, still remembers Huh.
“I remember Huh very well, of course,” Maradona recently told the Argentine media, after Korea Republic were drawn with Argentina, Nigeria and Greece for next year’s Fifa World Cup.
“In 1986, the Koreans played taekwondo, not football against us. I still remember Huh.”
The day was June 2, 1986, and the action was centred on the Mexico Olympico Stadium, all eyes were on Maradona. But the focus quickly changed to Huh, who made his presence felt early into the match.
Even a modest advance in his own half by Maradona was treated by Huh as a life-and-death situation, prompting another crunching tackle.
The South Korean, who played for Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven from 1980-83, kept his slippery quarry in his unblinking sights for the full 90 minutes, completely tying the genius down.
Maradona was reduced to supplying his team mates.
Three pin-point passes, however, from Maradona resulted in three goals - two by Jorge Valdano and one by Ruggeri. Park Chang-sun pulled one back for the Koreans.
The hard man methods adopted by Huh found little favour among the football writers then, for whom Maradona was the epitome of everything that is good in football.
Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal against England, however, quickly brought disgrace on him but it did little to detract from the enigma he was.
Huh and the South Koreans were roundly derided for playing ‘taekwondo’ and not the beautiful game.
But the Korean coach - unrepentant - says he would do it all over again, the same way, tackle for tackle, run for run, if he was pitted against Maradona.
“If I am asked to play Maradona and Argentina again, I will do the same thing. I don’t want to give them an easy win. I will stop them. I will fight them.”
For the 2010 Fifa World Cup, Maradona, leading a charmed life as the coach of Argentina, and Huh, who guided his team to their seventh World Cup finals, will be in the opposite benches and when the two shake hands, it won’t be without a feeling of déjà vu.
“Argentina is one of the best teams in the world,” says Huh.
“Even though they had a tough time in the qualifying rounds I don’t think anybody can take them lightly. If you see the Argentine stars, they are certainly superior to us.”
Huh is ready to take a leaf out of his own experience when the two sides face each other. “We will try to cut down their speed and reduce their tempo. Counter-attacks are crucial. They will be the key.”
It could well be taekwondo all over again.