Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Park's Back For Vital Week



Autumn has been more fruitful than the summer. As the last European season came to an end in May, the fate of South Korea’s overseas stars really hung in the balance. Some were fit, few were playing and none were scoring.

Lee Dong-guk and Lee Chun-soo were soon heading back east after unsuccessful spells in England and the Netherlands respectively. Neither managed a league goal and, it is safe though cruel to say, neither will be missed by the fans left behind.

But there are always more willing to wander westwards in search of fame and fortune. Kim Do-heon has impressed for Premier League new boys West Bromich Albion. The ex-Seongnam star almost scored the best goal of the English season so far but his rocket shot from 30 metres bounced off the crossbar. His performances led the BBC to label him a ‘tenacious, technical and tidy player’.

Now he is injured after a freak accident in last week’s match at Middlesbrough. After just 20 seconds, Kim caught his cleats in the turf and twisted his knee. He was carried off in obvious pain. Korean TV network MBC was also distressed. Following the Korean practice of starting the broadcast a minute or two after kick-off, Kim had already left the field by the time viewers joined the action, leaving commentators unsure of how to explain the events.

Also unsure of how to deal with Kim’s absence is national team coach Huh Jung-moo. The player will be back in action some time in November and will miss South Korea’s crucial 2010 World Cup qualifier against UAE on October 15.

Another overseas absentee for that Seoul match next week is Park Chu-young. The striker joined Monaco on the last day of August and scored on his first day of action for the seven-time French champions. It is coach Huh's opinion that Park needs to spend more time adjusting to his new club instead of flying back east.

That doesn’t apply to Park Ji-sung’s of course. The Manchester United star scored in his first Premier League start of the season against Chelsea in September as he returned to fitness and then the team after a knee injury. That problem kept him out of South Korea’s opening World Cup qualification match against North Korea last month.

After that 1-1 tie and the criticism that followed it, coach Huh was never going to leave leave Park in England. He arrived at Incheon airport on Monday.

“It is right to say that Korean football is in crisis,” said Park, following the tradition of Korean overseas players returning home in strange headgear –a white bandage-style hat. Still, it was better than Seol Ki-hyeon's summer rice farmer look.



“However, this is a good chance to move forward. I aim to help the national team get a good result. If we win against UAE, we can prepare for the other games more comfortably. We have to collect three points.”

Crisis talk is premature but the game against UAE is not only must-win for the team; the coach’s future depends on it. A defeat will probably signal the end of Huh, who took the reins just before Christmas. A draw would cause problems and would put Korea on two points after two games – not a good start especially when one considers that the next tests are the toughest – trips to Iran and Saudi Arabia. These are not places where the Taeguk Warriors usually excel.

Before all that however is a warm-up match against Uzbekistan on Saturday in Suwon. The Central Asians are en route to a crucial World Cup qualifier of their own in Japan. After two defeats in their opening two games, the Uzbeks need a good result in Saitama.

That poor start cost coach Rauf Inilieev his job. That fact won’t be lost on Huh Jung-moo when the two teams take the pitch this weekend.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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