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Italy vs Korea / 2002 World Cup

In the 2002 World Cup, co-host South Korea met a powerhouse Italian side in a memorable quarterfinal match:

"With a couple of minutes left," Nick Hornsby later reported, "a defensive mistake gave the Koreans an equalizer; even then, with just seconds remaining, the Italian striker Christian Vieri was presented with an unmissable chance to settle the match. He missed. At this stage, the Italians had no one to blame but themselves; however, in the extra-time "golden goal" period (in which the game ends as soon as anyone scores), a couple of bad decisions persuaded them that they could blame the referee and his assistants instead. A goal was disallowed because of a bad offside decision, and then Francesco Totti, one of the pinup boys of Italian football, was shown a red card for what has become known, in this World Cup, as 'simulation': in the opinion of the referee, he had purposely taken a dive in an attempt to win himself what would have been a decisive penalty. It was certainly an unkind interpretation of the Italian's fall. Then, just when it seemed as though the tie would have to be decided by the banality of a penalty shoot-out, the Korean striker Ahn Jung Hwan headed a last-gasp winner. Amusingly, Ahn had been playing his club football in Perugia, Italy, with apparently very little distinction.

"The Italians went stereotypically nuts. The FIFA e-mail system crashed after receiving an estimated four hundred thousand enraged messages about the refereeing decisions. Franco Frattini, the Italian minister for public offices, described the referee as 'a disgrace, absolutely scandalous'... The referee in question, Byron Moreno, of Ecuador, perhaps unwisely decided to snipe back. He suggested in effect that the accusations of bribery were a bit rich, coming as they did from a country not unfamiliar with the concept of the backhander. The Rome prosecutor's office, reacting to a complaint from an Italian consumer association, promptly opened an investigation into Moreno's conduct. TV stations, prosecutors, government ministers... at one stage it seemed only a matter of time before a small flotilla of Italian gunships would set sail across the Atlantic, to prepare the way for a full-scale invasion of Ecuador.

"Just when we non-Italians had begun to wonder whether our ribs could take any further punishment, along came Luciano Gaucci, the president of the Perugia football club and therefore Ahn Jung Hwan's boss, to add to the gaiety of nations. Gaucci announced that Ahn was fired. 'That gentleman will never set foot in Perugia again,' Gaucci said. 'I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian soccer.' Whether sacking a striker for scoring a goal is strictly in accordance with European employment law remains to be seen."

["The Italians were certainly unlucky," Hornsby remarked. "But almost all the decisions that went against them related to bad offside calls, which are two a penny in football: to make a correct judgment, a linesman is required to look simultaneously at the player passing the ball and the player receiving it, a physical impossibility that produces tantrums in every single game. My own proposed solution -- that football be played with one of those children's balls that squeak when kicked, thus giving the linesman an audible signal and allowing him to concentrate solely on the receiving player -- was once again foolishly ignored by the authorities..."]

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