It was the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland where the Republic of Korea (South Korea) made its first appearance in the World cup. It then took 32 years for the squad to reach the tournament again. In the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Korea was grouped with Argentina, Italy and Bulgaria, but managed to finally earn their first point in the tournament after earning a draw with Bulgaria. Based on this initial success, Korea went on to participate in seven consecutive World Cup finals from 1986 to the upcoming 2010 tournament in South Africa. Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with Japan and shocked the world by becoming the first Asian team to reach the semi-finals. In 2006 in Germany, Korea failed to reach the last 16. Korea beat Togo but lost to Switzerland and picked up a draw against France. It was somewhat disappointing for Korea as they were the only country with 4 points in the group stage who failed to qualify for the second phase.
The appointment of Huh Jung-Moo as coach in December 2007 put an end to the Dutch influence under the likes of Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat. Despite a sluggish start in the Asian Zone qualifying, the former Korea Republic midfielder silenced his critics by guiding his experimental side into the finals with two games to spare. Having scored a goal against Italy at Mexico 1986, he is no stranger to this stage as he also took part in Italy 1990 and USA 1994 as fitness trainer and assistant coach respectively. Huh was an interim coach of Korea Republic twice before, and led the U-23 side at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Sydney 2000.
Korea Republic may have qualified for their seventh consecutive world finals, but it was a bumpy ride this time. Despite a series of sub-par performances in the third round, the South Koreans managed to top their group after two goal-less draws with neighbors Korea DPR. The North Koreans proved to be their nemesis again in the final round, holding the Taeguk Warriors to a 1-1 draw in Shanghai. However, they bounced back in style with back-to-back wins over United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, before a crucial 1-1 draw with Iran in Tehran. A 1-0 home victory in the Korean derby followed, and the mission was accomplished with a 2-0 win against UAE on the road.
Korea has good team chemistry which comes from the characteristics of the Korean people, who like to focus on the co-workers and the community. Another strength is the players’ hard work rate. Players like Park Ji-Sung are very diligent. Finally, Korea has many versatile players. However, defending set pieces has been a problem. The first choice goalkeeper (Lee Woon-Jae, 182cm) and two centre-backs, Cho Yong-Hyung(182cm) and Lee Jung-Soo(185cm) are relatively smaller than European players. Also there is a huge gap between regular players and substitutes in terms of performance. If the best goal scorer Park Chu-Young were injured, there is no proper replacement for him, and also Park Ji-Sung and Lee Chung-Yong in both wing positions are non-replaceable players too. Moreover, without Ki Sung-Yong there is no one who can dispatch the ball from the middle of the pitch to the frontline.
It’s going to be tough. You would have to think that Argentina is the group favorite, and Nigeria should get the boost that we expect for all African teams this Cup. Greece isn’t the same team from 2004, but because the Koreans don’t score a lot of goals, they could struggle to get on the board. They may be sent home disappointingly early.
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