Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Korean Import Steals The Show

From second choice to first class, Queensland Roar's Korean recruit Seo Hyuk-Su is rapidly rivalling Dwight Yorke for the title of most valuable A-League import. Marc Fox reports.

Earlier this year, when Queensland coach Miron Bleiberg was assembling his first-ever A-League squad ahead of the competition's August start, he invited Korean World Cup veteran Shin Tae-Yong to tropical Australia for a trial. When 35-year old Shin arrived, however, he wasn't alone.

Seongnam Ilhwa team-mate Seo Hyuk-Su had accompanied his senior colleague on the trip and was duly given the chance to impress Bleiberg on the pitch. With seemingly immeasurable stamina and astute positioning, Seo made an instant impact. The Roar snapped him up.

Six months later, clinching the 32-year-old's signature still stands as the best piece of business Queensland carried out during pre-season. Although the least garnered of the five Asian imports in the new league when he arrived, Seo has quickly established himself as the archetypal Most Valuable Player. Not only has the likeable midfielder stepped out of the shadows of Shin at his club, he has become the number one Asian import in the whole league - and is closing in on Dwight Yorke's untouchable status as most heralded overseas recruit.

Even though his playing resume from his days in Korea - seven seasons in the K-League following a lengthy spell in Korea's second tier - might not have suggested so, Seo has dwarfed the achievements of his continental counterparts during the new competition's opening exchanges.

The form of Adelaide United's Chinese marquee signing Qu Shengqing has been interrupted with niggling injuries and is only threatening to take off two months in. Meanwhile Qu's countryman at the New Zealand Knights, Xiaobin Zhang, has been in and out of the side currently languishing at the root of the table and Japan-born players Hiro Ishida (Perth Glory) and Naoki Imaya (NZ Knights) are only now flourishing after injury setbacks.

In contract, Seo has been an A-League ever-present for Bleiberg. In fact, nobody can remember the last time the star nicknamed Harold by his constantly ribbing colleagues didn’t start a match for the Roar.

And his influence is forever growing. Although arriving down under as a self-professed full-back, Seo has been converted into the league's most adept holding midfielder. The position is pivotal in Bleiberg's attack-minded 4-3-3 formation within which the Korean's midfield allies are encouraged to get forward and support the strikers as much as possible. Seo reads the game so well, the coach often relies on him to cover for marauding sweeper Chad Gibson when the captain strides forward.

He is a sweet passer, a tigerish tackler and packs a punch when shooting too. Seo has scored in each of his last two A-League outings, both strikes blockbusters from metres outside the box - one with the left, one with the right. Furthermore, a rare mistake to allow Sydney FC's opening goal in the defeat to the pre-season favourites hasn’t affected his cult hero status with home fans one bit.

After gradually adjusting to Western culture (his favourite foods are lasagne and Domino's pizza), Seo and his family are keen to remain in Australia. So with only six months of his contract remaining, Bleiberg had better act soon.


Road to 2006 Update: It's Uruguay!
After a tense final round of qualifying in the South American section, the game between Uruguay and Argentina - a match possibly as many people were watching in Australia as locally - decided the Socceroos' opponents for next month's World Cup playoff.

Uruguay headed into the ultimate round knowing a victory would assure them of snatching fifth-place and the right to meet Australia in the CONMEBOL / Oceania playoff for the 32nd World Cup berth. A draw would have even been enough had closest rivals Colombia only managed the same result in Paraguay.

However, with the Colombians taking an early lead in Asuncion through striker Luis Rey, tension in Montevideo mounted. Only in the second half did Uruguay look like taking the lead with slick combination play between Diego Forlan and Alvaro Recoba breaking the deadlock. In truth, the Uruguayan margin of victory might have been greater by the final whistle but nevertheless fifth position was theirs.

The fixture might be a repeat of the 2001 playoff which Uruguay won 3-1 on aggregate but the South Americans know there will be no walkover this time. With admired tactician Guus Hiddink at the helm, Australia's preparation will be well researched and schooled in know-how. Hiddink's preferred 3-4-3 system offers better defensive protection than recent regimes while still not isolating hot-and-cold striker Mark Viduka.

Their form is impressive too. The Socceroos overpowered Jamaica in London last weekend in the most cutthroat display commentators had seen for a number of years. Confidence is high here but expectation is too. Next month is shaping up as the biggest in recent memory for Australia's footballing community.

Australian A-League Soccer News

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