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Dream to come true for South Korean referee

© Reuters 2002

By Judy Lee

SEOUL, May 28 (Reuters) - Kim Young-joo will fulfill his lifetime ambition when he becomes the first South Korean to referee a Word Cup match.

The 45-year-old, who has had to wait until his 15th and last year as a referee to earn the honour, will take charge of the game between Brazil and Turkey on June 3 in Ulsan, South Korea. "It's glorious to attend the World Cup games as I close a chapter of my career as a referee," Kim said in an interview with Reuters.

"(The appointment) is evidence that the standing of Korea's football in the world has upgraded one step further." But Kim knows the May 31-June 30 tournament, which South Korea is co-hosting with Japan, will be difficult to officiate.

"It's a tough job," Kim said. "If a referee makes any mistake, he soon becomes the enemy of everyone and the bad record follows you wherever you go. But it is also attractive as well." Kim started playing soccer in the army in his early twenties and joined an amateur team with a shipping company as a right winger.

In 1987, a friend pointed him to a new referees' training course in South Korea and he has never looked back, getting a job with the Korea Football Association within a year. In 2001, Kim was named the best referee by the Asia Football Confederation.

"Whatever I do, I start thinking there is no second place, only the top survives," Kim said. "Most of all, I thank my wife for her prayers and sacrifice for me."

Kim has been working hard to ensure he can keep up with players on the field, many of whom are half of his age.

Under the FIFA fitness test, a referee must run at least 2,700 metres (2,950 yards) in 12 minutes, run 50 metres in 7.5 seconds and run 200 metres in 32 seconds.

One week before a game, Kim does not touch meat and nor eat heavy meals to stay in shape. He also reads profiles of players and watches video tapes of games. "I have to be physically and mentally prepared so that I can concentrate on the game," Kim said. "Any mistake is not allowed in this world."

Kim thinks Argentina are among the World Cup favourites, with England and Portugal possible contenders for a place in the final, which Kim has ambitions to officiate. "I hope to referee the final match in the 2002 World Cup," he said.

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