Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Here we go again

Here we go again.
Fans of the South Korean national team and the Korean Football Association (KFA) have been here before.

Korea is now looking for a sixth post-Hiddink coach. Pim Verbeek's resignation at the end of the Asian Cup means that five coaches have now come and gone in the Land of the Morning Calm since the 2002 World Cup.

After three spells with the Korea national team, the first two as the assistant at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, Verbeek is a familiar figure in modern Korean soccer and has been a good servant. Taking the reins last summer, the tall 51-year-old had a long-term vision for Korean soccer, up to and beyond the 2010 World Cup. In the global game however, things rarely go according to plan.

The Asian Cup was one of those things. Verbeek led the team to third place in a continental campaign that ended in a bizarre fashion as his team defeated Japan in a penalty shootout to finish third.

Banished to the sidelines by an overzealous referee for protesting the dubious sending off of Kang Min-soo, Verbeek was forced to sit among the spectators as his team battled until the end.

The win means that Korea will now not have to qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup, and if that is a positive legacy then there are one or two others.

Following the retirement of the much-heralded back-line of 2002, the team has gone through defenders in an attempt to find a settled and competent back four.

At the end of the trip to Southeast Asia, however, it looks like an answer has finally been found. Oh Beom-seok, Kang Minsoo and Kim Jin-kyu and Chiwoo went seven hours without conceding a goal and, even better, the quartet are all under 24.

The experienced stars were absent, however. After the withdrawal of Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo, Seol Ki-hyeon and Kim Nam-il through injury, it was going to be tough for Korea to end its 47-year-long continental drought.The team stayed positive and an Asian Football Confederation official remarked that it was the first time he could remember a Korean team taking the competition with the utmost seriousness.

Unfortunately, scoring three goals in six games is going to win neither points nor plaudits. Verbeek was unable to solve the team's problems. As the defense tightened, fewer chances were created and the strikers rarely looked like they could score. Unrest in the Korean media grew - not to severe levels - but enough to question the leadership off the field and the lack of diversity in attack on it.

The knockout stage was a slog with all three games lasting two hours with no goals scored or conceded. Those six hours were more than long enough to demonstrate the fighting spirit and fitness of a team, but also showed little in the way of creativity and initiative.

It should be mentioned that such qualities are in short supply in a low-scoring K-League with overseas stars responsible for most of what does exist. Goals are not just a national team problem, they are a commodity not abundant domestically and only two out of the top 10 marksmen so far this season hold Korean passports.

That is another issue and not one that Verbeek will have to deal with. Soon, it will be the responsibility of someone else.

The early front-runner is Jorvan Vieira. The Brazilian led Iraq to the Asian Cup title. Before he did so, he confirmed that not only will he step down from that post but that he has been contacted by the Korean Football Association. The fact that he did so before Verbeek announced his departure was not appreciated in Seoul and does not reflect well on Vieira.

There is no need for the KFA to rush as little will happen for the next few months on the national team level and it is important to find the right person.

There is always the inevitable talk of big-name coaches, but with the World Cup three years away, tempting, as well as paying, such people is difficult. This is not a bad thing as perhaps it is time to avoid the stop-start effect that is in danger of becoming the norm.

It is all very well appointing famous coaches who become more attracted to Korea the closer a World Cup becomes, but as soon as the competition ends, they take their talents elsewhere and Korea finds itself almost back at square one.

For now however, it's time for a new start - again.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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