What They Said is a weekly series on the quotes behind the headlines.
South Korea has been swept up in a whirlwind of emotional twists and turns in recent weeks. Why? Because of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, of course.
The national team was assigned to Group H in the first round of the tournament, along with Portugal, Uruguay, and Ghana. After their opening match against Uruguay ended in a goalless draw, Korea lost 2–0 to Ghana. The odds of advancing beyond the Group stage seemed to be stacked against them, since this depended on Korea winning their match against Portugal, the highest ranked team in the group, as well as Uruguay winning against Ghana by no more than two points. As such, many Korean fans didn’t hold out much hope of Korea advancing to the knockout round. But then a miracle happened—Korea won 2–1 against Portugal, while Uruguay won 2–0 against Ghana. And so, for the first time in twelve years, Korea had gained a ticket to the quarter-finals.
Amidst all the excitement about South Korea’s success, one person fell out of favor with many football fans. On October 24, the South Korean rapper DinDin appeared as a guest on the SBS radio show “Bae Sung-jae’s Ten”. When asked about his thoughts on the South Korean team’s prospects, he predicted that they would fail to advance to the quarter-finals. Then he criticized the Korean team’s manager, Paulo Bento:
“I didn’t get the feeling that [Bento] was keeping up with all the K League games. Because [there are other] players who are doing well in the league. He has unified that team over a long time already, so it wouldn’t be easy to put another player in the game. But I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to give other players a chance for once? Was that too strong?”
— DinDin, rapper, October 24, 2022
That could’ve gone over without too much of an issue, but then off-air (but while the cameras were still rolling) he criticized Korean football fans, using informal language:
“Honestly, everyone’s probably thinking the same thing. We all know that it’ll be difficult for the team to go on to the quarter-finals. And yet, people are writing, ‘I think we’ll advance’. It’s really annoying, because people are talking nonsense. Why do they keep dreaming? How is it any different from musicians releasing a song and saying, ‘Oh, I hope I have a number-one hit this time.’? We know it’s not gonna happen.”
— DinDin, rapper, October 24, 2022
Although it was something that anyone could have said, public opinion was that he shouldn’t have said it on a show. DinDin apologized via Instagram on November 24 and again on December 3, when the Korean team won the game that qualified them for the quarters.
Then there was the Korean football player who went viral at the World Cup. Twenty-four-year-old striker Cho Gue-sung scored two goals against Ghana but gained even more attention for his good looks. His Instagram account had 20,000 followers prior to the World Cup, but the number had risen to 2.6 million as of December 7.
During an interview after the match with Portugal, Cho was asked whether he was “irked” by Japan’s advancement to the knockout round and whether Japan’s success had influenced the Korean team’s performance that day. He answered:
“It wasn’t like, since Japan advanced, so must we, but… Japan did advance and that was a bit irksome, honestly. So I did think, ‘We can’t not advance.’”
— Cho Gue-sung, South Korean football player, December 3, 2022
Japan took issue with Cho’s statement, as the translation had said that he felt Japan’s win to be “unpleasant”. The rising football star may need to be more careful about his wording in future when answering such leading questions.
Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo became the “hidden hero” of Korea’s win against Portugal. Some Koreans mockingly praised him for assisting the equalizer during the game—Lee Kang-in’s corner kick bounced off of Ronaldo’s back and landed right in front of Kim Young-gwon, whose goal put Korea level.
In an unofficial poll from an online sports community called Mania, for example, 67.5% of participants answered that they would forgive Ronaldo for his no-show in 2019. That year, during a friendly match between Juventus and Team K-League, Ronaldo became one of the most hated players in South Korea when he remained on the bench, after fans had been promised that he would play half the game. When it became clear that Ronaldo wasn’t going to play, the audience turned on him and started chanting for Lionel Messi instead. The nickname Ronaldo earned in Korea after the match was “Robber-do”, as he had “robbed” people of the opportunity to see him play.
Ronaldo had a short spat with Cho during last week’s match between Korea and Portugal, when he took his time leaving the field after a substitution. Cho gestured him off the field, saying, “fast, fast,” to which Ronaldo answered, “Shut up” in Portuguese.
When asked about the exchange, Cho said, “Ronaldo is Robber-do.”
People were hoping for another miracle, as South Korea faced Brazil on December 6 (KST). Unfortunately, the team lost 4–1, and fans will now have to wait another four years for the next World Cup, which will be held jointly in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.