The Korea Herald


Korea’s success doesn’t surprise Thai soccer star


Published : Oct. 20, 2010 - 17:43

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Contributing writer Sometimes there is a soccer player who comes from overseas without much fanfare, immediately makes a huge difference in his new surroundings, becomes a star and then leaves just as quickly to be forever fondly remembered. Piyapong Pueon is such a man.

The Thai striker arrived in Korea in 1984, a year after the K-League formed, to sign for Lucky Goldstar Hwangso. The team had finished near the bottom of the standings before he came, but in 1985, Piyapong finished as top scorer in the league to bring the championship to the club. He returned home in 1986 to become the biggest star in Thai football history. Even now in Bangkok, Thai fans still talk wistfully of their former hero, especially when the national team struggles to score.

The man himself, now 50, was in Seoul last week to watch the match between Korea and Japan and was happy to share his thoughts on Korean soccer.

“The best things were good friends, good food, good hospitality and the fact that everybody loves sports,” he said. “It was a time that I will never forget especially because of the football. Before I came, Lucky Goldstar were not doing very well but after I came we became champions.”
Piyapong Pueon Piyapong Pueon

Few Southeast Asian players succeed overseas but Piyapong thrived in what was, literally, a very tough league. “In the 1980s, the most important thing in Korea was stamina. The Koreans only had stamina, power and the ability to run. Compared to football in Thailand it was physically much harder. For Korea, that has now changed, they still have those things but, perhaps after Guus Hiddink, the players and the national team are also skillful and that is why they are able to have sustained success.

“Everything has changed in the past 25 years. The organization is better. Korea is getting better in many kinds of sports because the government supports Korea in all kinds of sports. The Korean people love sports more now than they used to. This is a factor why they offer a role model to Asia in the world. These days, Korea doesn’t just want to participate but wants to be the best and we can see this now in the World Cup the team now doesn’t want to go home at the first round but progress to the knockout stage.”

The Thai league is improving all the time though the scene still lags somewhat behind Korea. A place at the World Cup doesn’t seem to be in reach anytime in the immediate future, though Piyapong has enjoyed watching Korea shine at World Cups, especially in 2002 when Hiddink led the players to the semifinals. “It was great to see Korea do so well in 2002. It was good for me personally as I have happy memories of Korea and it was also good for Asia to see an Asian team do so well and help move Asian football forward.”

Piyapong also hopes Korea can bring the World Cup back to Asia. “Korea hosted a great 2002 World Cup. The stadiums and atmosphere were great. The same will happen in 2022.

“Korea is an inspiration to all Asian nations as we try to improve in football. It is good for Asian fans to see that Korea can match other teams from all around the world and it is good to see players playing in England’s Premier League. People think ‘if they can do it, maybe we can, too.’”

By John Duerden  (