Friday, June 27, 2008

Korea Ready For Next Stage?

Korea Ready For Next Stage?
Another weekend gone and one more match closer to the 2010 World Cup. June is almost over and a place in the final round of world cup qualification is assured. It is time to take stock of a busy period that has raised a number of questions.

The main issue is how the Taeguk Warriors will fare against stronger opposition when the action resumes in September.

On Friday, the ten Asian teams that survived the just-finished third round will be split into two groups of five. The top two from each group will automatically book their places in South Africa. The two third-placed teams play-off for the right to face Oceania’s representative –the winner of that match goes to the World Cup.

Confused? Well, then you know how the Korean defence has felt on a regular basis in the past few weeks. At times the backline has struggled against the attacks of Turkmenistan and Jordan, so it is worrying to consider what may happen against the craft of the Japanese, the speed of the Saudis or the skill of the Iranians.

On the face of it six games in Group Three and a record of three wins and three draws is perfectly acceptable but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

February

It all started well with a 4-0 thrashing of Turkmenistan in Seoul. English-based stars Park Ji-sung and Seol Ki-hyeon starred. It was the perfect start though the media was concerned at how much better the overseas stars were than the K-Leagues.

March

The press was singing, along with the coach, a different tune at the end of March after a dull goalless draw against North Korea in Shanghai. This time Seol, as well as fellow London resident, Lee Young-pyo were partly blamed by the press and the boss for the unimaginative display.

May


The low point of the six games was the last 20 minutes against Jordan in Seoul on May 31. Cruising 2-0 against the West Asians, Jordan took advantage of some poor goalkeeping and defending to pull a goal back. Then everything went wrong and the team fell to pieces. In the end, it was almost a relief to tie 2-2 against a team then ranked 104 in the world by FIFA.

The next day, coach Huh Jung-moo irresponsibly placed part of the blame on goalkeeper Kim Yong-dae. He also suggested that the Korean Football Association (KFA) should lift the ban on veteran shotstopper Lee Woon-jae. Lee’s late-night drinking exploits during the 2007 Asian Cup earned himself a 12-month enforced absence from the national team which ends in November. The KFA said it was too early. Huh said he never made the request anyway and it was all the media’s work.

June

It hadn’t been a good 48 hours for Korean football but to the team’s credit, it bounced back and won 1-0 in Jordan a week later. The performance wasn’t great, the defense again looked shaky but it was a good win in a tough environment. The same could be said of the 3-1 victory against Turkmenistan a week later. The team scored its only goal of the group against the Koreans and caused the visitors more trouble than it really should have been allowed to, but the hat-trick from Park Ji-sung replacement Kim Do-heon picked up another three points.

Then came a second goalless draw at home against the North Koreans in Seoul, a dull game against a defensive-minded team.

Next…

There is work to do, starting on Friday when the identities of South Korea’s four opponents in the final stage will be revealed. The last time that South Korea failed to reach the World Cup was back in 1982, and hard work and a little imagination is needed to ensure that unwanted history is not made.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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