- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2003

SEOUL — It seemed fitting as I traveled to South Korea to cover the Peace Cup that I took with me the just published book “23 Days in Korea: An American at the World Cup” (Trafford Publishing, $19.95, 235 pages) by Annandale, Va., resident Andy Gustafson.

The book is an account of a soccer fan’s thrilling three weeks following the U.S. national team as it stunningly reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. If anything, Gustafson’s book is an ideal travel guide for any soccer enthusiast traveling to Korea.

I was unable to attend last year’s World Cup in Japan and South Korea. For my experience of Asia, I had to make do with the Peace Cup, an eight-club event and the biggest soccer event held by Korea since last year’s finals.

In soccer-mad Britain, a few books already have appeared about the 2002 finals. But here in America, only Gustafson made the attempt to chronicle an amazing story that, in another country, surely would produce a number of books.

Gustafson, who plays host to a weekly TV soccer show seen in two counties in Virginia — Stafford and Spotsylvania — is not a writer by trade, but he makes an impressive effort in telling us the remarkable experience of being an American fan following a U.S. team performing well beyond expectations.

His original goal was to write an inside story — get in the locker room, meet the players and find out what really makes American coach Bruce Arena tick — but he never got a chance.

U.S. Soccer refused to give him access. Gustafson still decided to make the trip and write his book. He bought tickets for the games, packed his bags, kissed his fiancee, Ivy, goodbye and headed to Asia with his buddy Jimmy.

He planned the trip via the Internet and in coordination with “Sam’s Army,” the U.S. team’s traveling fan club.

What he produced was a fresh, innocent and blunt account of what has been an anomaly in the past — the story of a real American soccer fan.

“I wanted our fans to show the type of support for our team that other more traditional soccer countries do,” Gustafson wrote. “I wanted people in England to say, ‘Wow, listen to those Yanks.’”

Like most people who arrive in Korea these days, the author was amazed at how passionate the Koreans were about their team, which went on to reach the semifinals.

Gustafson recorded details of every day he spent in Korea, including every meal and drink. He is at his best when he describes watching the games in the stands with the American fans.

When the U.S. team opened the World Cup with a surprise 3-2 victory against Portugal, Gustafson was right behind Portugal’s goal.

“[John] O’Brien is looking straight at me as he drills the ball into the net,” Gustafson wrote. “Had the net not been there, I believe the ball would have come straight to me. … Never did anyone think we would be 3-0 up before halftime.”

The win had the author believing the Americans could reach the final game.

“At that moment, it did not seem like a far-fetched dream,” he wrote. “In fact it seemed down right possible.”

After the Portugal win, the Americans played Korea to a 1-1 tie before 50,000 Koreans, all of them wearing red T-shirts with “Go The Reds” written in English on them.

In one poignant moment, Gustafson found himself befriended by an elderly French fan on the subway. The man had just witnessed France, the defending champions, dismissed from the finals without scoring a goal. Gustafson tried to cheer up the Frenchman. The man was an opera lover and responded: “If you want to be happy listen to Mozart,” which is just then being played in the subway car.

During the Poland game, which the U.S. team was losing 3-1, Gustafson was desperate to find out how Korea was faring against Portugal.

“This is so cruel,” he wrote. “Our fate is being decided hundreds of miles from here …”

If the Portuguese won or tied, the Americans were out. Finally, Gustafson saw Koreans in the crowd cheering. South Korea was beating Portugal, which was down to nine men.

“I look to the Koreans to our right and they are celebrating,” he writes. “I look toward our bench and see a lot of action. Word has arrived! Korea has won! We are through.”

In his travels, the author bumped into Kansas City Chiefs owner and soccer lover Lamar Hunt, who, like the other fans, was waiting to catch a bus to the game.

Gustafson went on to relive the 2-0 win over Mexico in the second round and the heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Germany in the quarterfinals.

“But our boys saw to it that we would be remembered,” Gustafson wrote. “They forced the world to take notice. We had become a player here. From the shocks we had sent in beating mighty Portugal, to Brad Friedel making history by stopping two penalties, to the guy from Newcastle who told me, ‘I can see you in the finals.’ The world was talking about the U.S. soccer team. Knowing this, I walked taller. I was a part of this. I belong here, not as a witness, but as a participant.”

If anything, for all his efforts, Gustafson should be given a press credential to the 2006 finals in Germany.

• To obtain this book, call toll-free 1-888/232-4444 or e-mail [email protected]

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