With Sunderland enjoying a prolonged spell in the Premier League and having just brought a new sponsor on board, we were looking to expand our international ‘brand’ ahead of the 2012/2013 campaign.
The logo of the non-profit organisation Invest in Africa was emblazoned across the Lads’ new strips, with the idea being that our presence in the one of the biggest competitions on the planet would help grow awareness of the opportunities available in Asia.
It was doubtless hoped that the relationship might also attract new supporters from that part of the world, and the opportunity to visit South Korea as part of our preparations for the new season seemed like another way to spread the word.
The ‘Peace Cup’ had first taken place in 2003, with entrants over the years including Boca Juniors, Juventus, PSV Eindhoven, Real Madrid and River Plate. In 2012, we arrived in the province of Gyeonggi-do alongside Bundesliga side and former European Cup winners Hamburg for what proved to be the final edition of the tournament.
The games were staged at the Suwon World Cup Stadium, home of the Samsung Bluewings and the host venue of four 2002 FIFA World Cup ties, including a match between Spain and the Republic of Ireland that featured many familiar names including Shay Given, Gary Breen, Ian Harte, Kevin Kilbane, Kenny Cunningham, Niall Quinn, David Connolly and Mick McCarthy.
First up for Martin O’Neill’s squad was a narrow loss to Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma of the home nation’s K-League, meaning that our clash with Dutch outfit FC Groningen would determine who would finish third in the competition and avoid the wooden spoon.
The boss had brought a number of the club’s youngsters along with a view to giving minutes to both established and emerging players, but frustratingly, he was unable to call upon the services of local favourite Ji Dong-won, who was back in the UK representing his nation in the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
Already a full international by that stage, Ji was a popular figure in his homeland and would eventually help South Korea to a bronze medal, but it was presumably his arrival on Wearside a year earlier that had sparked interest in the Lads and prompted the invite in the first place, so his absence felt somewhat ironic.
As it was, the sporting association with the Republic continued regardless, as later in the year the Team Korea boat that competed in the America’s Cup bore the club crest, giving Sunderland further exposure to a global audience amidst the efforts to boost our profile.
On the pitch, it felt like plain sailing when Connor Wickham pushed the ball into an empty net to put Sunderland in front after some slack defending.
However, Suk Hyun-jun, who originally hailed from Chungju, approximately fifty miles from Suwon, was a popular scorer when his acrobatic overhead kick levelled things up, before Groningen went ahead just before half time with a superb goal from Mitchell Schet.
Two defeats out of two having travelled so far would’ve done little for morale but a late response brought a boost.
Fraizer Campbell got on the end of a Craig Gardner cross to equalise and then Ryan Noble, who’d done well in the build up to the previous goal, ran at the defence and hit a screamer to make it 3-2 to Sunderland.
Despite the win, however, it remained to be seen whether we could widen our reach over the coming season.
Sunday 22 July 2012
Peace Cup third place play-off
Sunderland 3 (Wickham 20’, Campbell 89’, Noble 90’)
Groningen 2 (Suk 38’, Schet 45’)
Sunderland: Wilson (Pickford 64’), Gardner, Brown; (Egan 36’) Cuellar, (Bramble 13’), Richardson, (Noble 77’) Colback; Cattermole, Meyler, Lynch (Laing 60’); Campbell, Wickham
Subs Not Used: Turner, Reed, Knott, Deacon