Monday, February 18, 2008

Koreas Looking Good

Kwak Tae-hwi scores again
That’s the way football goes. From July to February 6, South Korea went 550 minutes of play without scoring. In the past two weeks, the team has found the net seven times.

Kwak Tae-hwi was responsible for the first and the last of those goals. The baby-faced defender headed home the first goal against Turkmenistan in Seoul two weeks ago and then, on Sunday afternoon, he scored in the last-minute to give the Taeguk Warriors a dramatic 3-2 win against China in Chongqing.

That victory came in the first match of the East Asian championships being held in the Chinese city. It was an exciting game. Park Chu-young hadn’t scored for the national team since March 1 2006 when Angola came to a snowy Seoul stadium. On a misty Chongqing day, Park headed home the opening goal at the end of the first half and then was on target in the second half with a lovely free-kick curled home from 25 metres.

Sandwiched In between the two strikes had come two Chinese goals, the first an absolute scorcher from Zhou Haibin, and the game was heading for a 2-2 draw on a misty afternoon. That was until Kwak fired home a fine half-volley to extend China’s winless streak against South Korea to 27 games and, as the Korean media gleefully pointed out, it also continues China’s “Koreaphobia".

There are still two games to play in this four-nation biennial tournament. Next up for Huh Jung-moo's men is a Wednesday night clash with North Korea at the same venue.

Games against the northern neighbors are always special affairs but they are becoming more common. The teams have met only three times in the past 14 years but that number will double in 2008. As well as the game this week, there is the small matter of two qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup that will take place over the next few months.

Those two games make Wednesday’s clash a strange one. South Korea is without any European-based stars for this tournament. The roster is full of inexperienced K-Leaguers. Coach Huh can select a side safe in the knowledge that he will not be giving too much away to his opposite number Kim Jong-hun.

In contrast, Kim’s squad is at almost full-strength and he may be wary of showing too much of his hand ahead of the meeting in Pyongyang on March 26. Two of his team however, are already well-known to coach Huh.

Midfielder An Yong-hak was born in Japan but is a well-established North Korean international. He joined Busan I’Park in 2006 and after a slow start on the south coast; he has become one of the league’s most consistent performers. After 2002 and 2006 World Cup star and South Korean captain Kim Nam-il left Suwon Samsung Bluewings at the end of last season to join Japanese club Vissel Kobe, Suwon coach Cha Bum-keun picked up An as the replacement. The two should face each other on the pitch and An is looking forward to it.

“Kim Nam-il is the best midfielder in South Korea,” An told reporters after the Japan draw. “I want to play a good game against him.

“We watched the first half of South Korea on television and just a little of the second half,” An added. “The fact that they got the winner in stoppage time shows their mental strength.”

Jong Tae-se is another Japanese-born DPRK star. The striker plays for J-League club Kawasaki Frontale and scored an excellent goal in North Korea’s 1-1 draw with Japan on Sunday. Young and full of confidence, Jong also scored against Chunnam Dragons, the former club of southern coach Huh, in the 2007 Asian Champions League. He is hungry and dangerous.

“I am looking forward to playing against South Korea,” Jung said. “The team is similar to Japan in terms of ability. I should have scored more goals against Japan and I will try my best in the next game.”

It promises to be a tight match despite South Korea’s new-found scoring prowess and a draw would be no surprise as powder is kept dry for next month’s crucial clash.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile


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