Sunday, September 10, 2006

Korea On Brink Of Asian Cup



They were both qualifying games for the 2007 Asian Cup but the similarity between Pim Verbeek’s first two matches in front of home fans as head coach of South Korea ends there.

The first was a high-tempo 1-1 draw with Iran on a Saturday night in front of 63,000 fans in Seoul World Cup Stadium.

The second was a stroll in the park with an 8-0 midweek thrashing of Taiwan in a half full Suwon World Cup arena.

The end result was the two-time continental champions needing just a point from their last two games in Group B – either at home against Syria in October or in Iran a month later.



Before the pair of games, the Dutchman shocked a few people by leaving 2005 K-League phenomenon Park Chu-young and World Cup star Ahn Jung-hwan out of the squad – though Ahn was probably the most shocked of all, especially after he had scored the first goal of Verbeek’s reign on August 16 in the 3-0 win in Taiwan.

Ahn wasn’t at his best in that game however, and his failure to find a club this summer has cost him his place in the team. After telling his European-based stars that they need to be playing regular football for their club teams, it was always going to be difficult for Verbeek to pick a player who had no club bench to sit on and Ahn’s comments that he might take a break for four months didn't give the best impression of his motivation levels.

At least the Lord of the Ring has finally been released from his contract with German club MSV Duisberg. He is now free to move anywhere but who knows what will happen? Nothing is ever simple with Ahn Jung-hwan.

If the player watched the Iran game, he would have seen a hard-fought clash against a West Asian team that had arrived in Seoul under some pressure.

A disappointing World Cup was followed by a change of coach but an unconvincing victory against UAE and a 1-1 draw with Syria haven’t made Amir Ghaleneoi’s new job any easier.

After already coming under fire from most of Tehran’s sixteen daily newspapers, it was perhaps understandable that the former Esteghal boss was conservative in his approach in the Korean capital. Team Melli got plenty of men behind the ball and looked to hurt their opponents on the counter-attack.

Korea had most of the possession and chances but lacked the killer final pass in the final third – how many times have we heard that before?

Seol Ki-hyeon finally put the hosts ahead on the stroke of half-time with a smart header but there was always a feeling that if a second didn’t come then Iran may not return home empty-handed.

The visitors came more into the game in the second half and in the last 20 minutes started to cause a few problems with Bolton Wanderers’ new midfielder Andranik Teymourian quietly impressive in the middle of the park.

It came with the very last kick of the game. Kim Sang-sik had lots of time to clear the ball from the right corner of the penalty area – too much time. The Seongnam defender changed his mind and was robbed of possession by Vahid Hashemian.

“The Helicopter” may be known for his skill in the air but he showed admirable coolness by immediately lobbing the ball over goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang who had been on his way out of goal to find out what exactly Kim was doing.

People say that in such a situation, a draw feels like a defeat. It didn’t seem to. The fans and media were disappointed but not too despondent as qualification for the 2007 Asian Cup was still very much on the cards. The feeling was just that of a good Saturday night ending on a sour note (or beginning, depending on your plans).

As one would expect, the Taiwan game was a walkover. The visitors'squad was made of students (even two high school kids), soldiers and company workers. They looked like what they were - amateurs against bigger, stronger and faster professionals.



It was 2-0 within four minutes thanks to Reading's August Player of the Month Seol Ki-hyeon and FC Seoul striker Jung Jo-gook. The two were at it again in the last two minutes of the first-half, getting another goal within a minute of each other.

Four more were added in the second half. Cho Jae-jin got two – interestingly, the Shimizu S-Pulse striker refused to let partner Jung, who was on a hat-trick, take the 83rd minute penalty that made it 7-0. It turned out OK though as Jung did get his third with two minutes left.

In the midst of all this, the increasingly impressive Kim Do-heon scored a fantastic 25 yard-half volley.

A friendly game with Ghana has almost been arranged for October 8 in Seoul, three days before the next Asian Cup qualifier with Syria.

Copyright: John Duerden and Soccerphile

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