Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

South Korea will measure success only be the round

South Korea will measure success only be the round

For South Korea, Asia's most successful World Cup team, the priority for this year's World Cup is all about achieving a place in the second round on foreign soil.
The 2002 co-hosts reached the semifinals at home but, going into a seventh straight World Cup and an eighth overall, the team has never progressed past the group stage overseas.
The South Koreans achieved their first win at a World Cup in 2002, and their first win overseas came in Germany four years ago.
Despite being drawn in a competitive group with Argentina, Nigeria and Greece, hopes are high that a South Korean squad led by Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung can build on recent progress.
"Our first target is to reach the round of 16 and, should we make it, we will definitely strive to go one better," South Korea coach Huh Jung-moo said. "Our group is one of the toughest groups but we are confident that we can complete our mission."
The path to South Africa was a tough one with Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and the United Arab Emirates all vying for the two automatic berths from their Asian qualifying group. But South Korea went unbeaten to top the standings and earn a place for 2010 with two matches to spare.
In the wake of that, the South Koreans comfortably defeated Paraguay and Australia, which topped the other Asian qualifying group, and Senegal to improve the unbeaten run under Huh to 27 games.
The situation has deteriorated since then. The major problem facing Huh is a defensive one and it is an issue that exploded in February. Blessed with speedy and indefatigable fullbacks, it is the center of defense that is causing headaches.
Huh has experimented with a number of partnerships but none have been fully convincing. At a South African training camp in January, a 4-2 loss to Zambia showed that there was much defensive work to be done.
If that was a warning shot, a 3-0 loss to China on Feb. 10 in Tokyo was a massive wake-up call. China had not won any of their previous 27 head-to-head matches. That record was erased in devastating fashion by a Chinese team greatly helped by poor defending.
Anger erupted in Seoul and fan forums were rife with talk of a return of 2002 coach Guus Hiddink. Only a subsequent 3-1 win over Japan saved Huh from a very uncomfortable return to South Korea.
Like many Asian teams, South Korea has often struggled to score goals against top international competition. Offensively, however, there are reasons to be cheerful for the "Red Devils" _ the famous fans of the national team.
The one bright spot amid the recent problems is the fact that South Korea's overseas players were absent for the recent losses. There are four European-based internationals and all are performing well in their respective leagues.
The emergence of young stars such as Lee Chung-yong and Ki Sung-yong has been a huge plus in Huh's reign. The pair broke into the national team as teenagers and instantly looked at home.
Both have made big-money moves to Europe. Ki, an attack-minded central midfielder, is just starting his career with Scottish club Celtic after a $4 million transfer.
Former FC Seoul teammate Lee is one of the rising stars of the Premier League. Despite playing for struggling club Bolton, the wide midfielder has impressed by scoring and creating goals.
Another ex-Seoul player, Park Chu-young, is in his second season in France with seven-time champion Monaco and has been in the upper reaches of the French scoring table all season.
All three are expected to start in Port Elizabeth against Greece on June 12 and all are capable of making their names at the World Cup.
Park Ji-sung did just that as a 21-year-old youngster in 2002, and now the midfielder is national captain and a regular Manchester United player of almost five years with three Premier League titles and one Champions League final appearance to his credit.
The tireless Park has declared that this will be his last World Cup. Other survivors from the 2002 squad, including 36-year-old goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae and 32-year-old fullback Lee Young-pyo will have no such say in the matter.
Ahn Jung-hwan was another star of 2002, famously eliminating Italy with a golden goal, and he could also play at the age of 34.
"Until now, I haven't thought about it. But it will be an honor if I am selected," Ahn said. "I am happy if the coach thinks that I am a player who the national team needs."