Asia’s most successful-ever team enter their 7th consecutive World Cup. South Korea are hoping to end an inability to perform well overseas in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. With an improved squad and expectations higher than ever at home, many wonder whether this will be a breakout performance by the 2002 World Cup co-hosts.
4th place was achieved in that hosted tournament, however questions are still posed to this team about favorable refereeing decisions helping the team progress eight years ago. After missing out on a place in the knockout rounds in 2006, the goal this team in Group B, which features opponents Argentina, Nigeria, and Greece, is to get to the second round.
TALE OF THE TAPE
FIFA Ranking: 49th
World Cup Appearances: 7 (1954, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006)
World Cup Record (W-D-L): 4-7-13
Best World Cup Finish: 4th place, 2002 World Cup
Road To South Africa: Qualified as 1st Place team from Asia Round 4, Group B
There will probably be no fitter team at this World Cup and the South Koreans in the past have shown they can run all day. But looking past only fitness levels this time, this team can count on battle-hardened European0based players who are tested week-in week-out at the highest level. This is arguably the best ever South Korean side in terms of talent and depth.
Defensive frailties persist at the back for South Korea and they are quite susceptible to counter-attacks, possibly caught off-guard at times by their willingness to pressure high up the field. Their track record in World Cups doesn’t offer much reason for excitement. Though they fared decent in Germany by recording their first ever win away from home at a World Cup, their only real success in 7 previous tournaments has been the 2002 World Cup which they co-hosted.
Huh Jung-Moo is back for his third stint with the team having been interim coach twice before. In the lead-up to the 2002 World Cup he was dismissed in favor of Guus Hiddink, so now he finally has a chance to lead South Korea to the World Cup itself. He previously led the Taeguk Warriors to 3rd place in the 2000 Asian Cup. Named the 2009 AFC Coach of the Year, Huh has vast experience with the South Korean side in World Cups as a player in 1986 (where he scored against Italy), as a fitness trainer in 1990, and as assistant coach in 1994.
The Key Men
Park Ji-Sung is the most recognizable name in the squad to football fans around the world and he is undoubtedly the team’s most influential player. The Manchester United star logged the most minutes for the team in qualifying and finished as top scorer as well. Now as captain for the national side, this tireless worker on the flanks leads the team and is one of the side’s main creator of chances.
An upcoming 24-year-old could be the key to South Korea grabbing the goals this summer in South Africa. Park Chu-Young has enjoyed a superb start to his career with the national team having scored 13 goals in 39 appearances. A move to Monaco in 2008 has also been widely seen as positive and after settling in, the former FC Seoul man scored 8 times in 20 matches this season before injury disrupted his campaign. The question now is how fit will he be come June?
Fitness and commitment will be combined with experience and talent for what on paper is the strongest side South Korea has sent to a World Cup. The fact that the tournament takes place in Africa may give South Korea their best shot in a longtime of achieving success at the World Cup.
The Key Match
Everything will start and end it seems with the opener against Greece. This is a match both sides view as a final and anything less than a win would make qualification to the second round very difficult. Next up would Argentina so any points there would be a plus, the final fixture against Nigeria could well be another final to determine second spot in Group B.
Why You Should Watch Them
If you want to see football played at a high tempo for 90 minutes then this is your team. These are a group of players who have a good mentality of battling for the entire match. This is also a team with something to prove to critics who claim that their 4th place finish in 2002 was a result of home advantage and poor refereeing.
Guest Panelist: John Duerden, Journalist and Asian Football Expert
John Told One Game, One World:
“Asia’s most successful World Cup team are desperate to reach the second round for the first time in a World Cup held overseas -though they came close in 2006.
Preparations have been pretty good with wins in Japan in Tokyo in February and the Ivory Coast in London in March.
Much depends on the form of European-based players. Park Ji-sung is the team’s talisman and should be fairly fresh after missing a number of games for Manchester United. Just as important however is Park Chu-young. The Monaco marksman has been battling injuries of late and though he will recover in time, the fact that he has been struggling for form too is a worry. Park is the team’s main striker and without him, other options don’t look nearly as good.
Much depends on the Greece opener. If Korea’s pacy attacking players and hard work produces a win then the second round is within reach. Fans however are very concerned about the vulnerability of the team’s central defence.”
One Game, One World Final Say
This is a tough team to pinpoint because they appear to have a legitimate shot at progressing through to the next round as there is more quality than ever in the squad. Something suggests they might struggle however in what will be a group full of physical sides. The South Koreans must impose their fast, high tempo game on other teams otherwise if it’s slowed down and they are spending most of the match challenging set-pieces into the box there could be trouble. The backline has lots of unanswered questions, but if things go well early and Greece are defeated then this could be a tournament to remember for fans of this team.
What do you think about South Korea’s chances? Will they go through? Or will they end another World Cup in disappointment? Have your say with a comment on this page!