Monday, August 11, 2008

Italy Outclass Korea In China

Italy Outclass Korea In China.
Park Tae-hwan thrilled South Korea on Sunday with his swimming heroics in Beijing but later the same day, Park Sung-hwa was looking less happy than the teenage sensation.

For the coach of the Olympic soccer team there is not much consolation to be had after a 3-0 defeat against Italy but at least South Korea is faring no worse than hosts China and better than the already-eliminated Japan at the 2008 Beijing Olympics soccer tournament.

After a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Cameroon in the opening match of the group, Korea was hoping for a similar result against the highly-fancied Italians – one which would had left the Taeguk Warriors just needing to defeat outsiders Honduras in the final match to progress to the last eight.

Talk in Seoul may have been of the chances of a securing a tie but chat in Rome was of revenge; payback for what happened in the 2002 World Cup when Korea sent the Azzuri home. A group game at the 2008 Beijing Olympics may not have anything like the same glamor and gravitas as a World Cup knockout match but the build up to the game had that big match feeling.

It was unfortunate then that the game was almost over within the half hour in the Chinese city of Qinhuangdao. The Europeans took a 2-0 lead that they never really looked in danger of letting slip – if any nation knows how to defend such an advantage it is Italy.

‘Korean tears at the Italian defensive wall’ read one headline in the Seoul media. Now the team is in serious danger of elimination at the first hurdle. Nothing less than a win against Honduras will suffice on Wednesday and the likelihood is that even that will not be enough to book a place in the quarterfinals. Korea needs Italy to defeat Cameroon but as the Europeans have secured their place in the next stage, players are sure to be rested and minds focused elsewhere.

For months coach Park, who was unable to select the injured Manchester United star Park Ji-sung for the roster, talked of the importance of concentration and organization in defence but there was little evidence of either on two separate occasions in the first half.

From the start, the South Korean backline struggled to cope with the intelligence, movement and talent of the three Italian forwards Sebastian Giovinco, Tommaso Rocchi and opening goalscorer Guiseppe Rossi.

After just 15 minutes, Rossi fired home a low shot from just inside the area, squeezing between two defenders. The men in white shirts were slow to react though Rossi, reluctantly sold by Manchester United to Spanish side Villarreal for $15 million (though the English and European champions have an option to buy the 21 year-old back), is the kind of predator and natural finisher that coach Park would love to have.

It didn’t need a top-class striker to score Italy’s second. Despite the fact that there were no less than seven white shirts inside the Korean penalty area, Rocchi was given oceans of space and ages of time to receive the ball in a central position, pick his spot and then shoot home.

From that point, the game was virtually over. Better attacking teams than Korea would struggle to come back from such a deficit against the Italians and although the men from Seoul tried gainfully - Park Chu-young headed against the crossbar - there was a constant feeling that Italy had an extra gear if it was necessary. It wasn’t but the Azzurrini scored a third in the dying seconds as Korea poured men forward.

Now it is a time to regroup and not to dwell on a defeat against an impressive Italian team. Coach Park has to make sure that his players are fully focused on defeating Honduras. It may well be that Cameroon gets the point it needs against Italy but Korea needs to be ready to capitalize on any slip by the Africans.

Dreams of medals may not be over for the young team but a place on the podium is looking as murky as a cloudy Beijing afternoon.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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