Tuesday, April 28, 2009

South Korean Old Boys Gunning For 2010

South Korea.
There must be something in the water in South Korea. Anybody who spends time on the coaching staff of the national team seems to spend the rest of their career doing pretty well for themselves.

A Korean Football Association (KFA) official told me recently that the organization should start charging commission or finding fees. He has a point as it is not impossible that four teams at the 2010 World Cup could have former member of the South Korean coaching staff as their head coaches.

Just take a look at the recent history. Guus Hiddink isn’t doing too badly for himself and is now preparing Chelsea for a UEFA Champions League semi-final and is also trying to guide the Russian national team to the 2010 World Cup.

His successor in Korea was Humberto Coelho. The Portuguese tactician is now in charge of Tunisia and aiming for 2010. Dick Advocaat was the boss at the 2006 global tournament and has since led Russian club Zenit St Petersburg to the national title and the UEFA Cup.

These guys all had national team experience before taking charge of the Taeguk Warriors but the same can’t be said (except for the Netherlands Antilles) of the head coach and assistant that led South Korea to the 2007 Asian Cup.

Pim Verbeek was the number two at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and then stepped up to the plate in 2007. The last in a series of four Dutchman from December 2000, Verbeek took the team to third place at the Asian Cup. As soon as that regional competition was over, he resigned.

He turned up in Australia in December of the same year, charged with leading the Socceroos to only their third World Cup ever. Reception down under was lukewarm but Verbeek has won them over with a series of good results. Now, with three World Cup qualification games remaining, Australia is as good as in South Africa. Even if rival teams win all of their games, the Aussies need just a single point.

KFA officials are publicly happy at Verbeek’s success but were privately relieved that, with his in-depth knowledge of the game in the Land of the Morning Calm, Korea and the Socceroos were not drawn together in the qualification campaign.

What the KFA still has to deal with however is the former assistant of the national team – Afshin Ghotbi. The Iranian – American was on the Korean bench at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and the 2007 Asian Cup. Last week he took over Iran’s national team.

Unlike Australia, Iran is in Korea’s World Cup qualification group and Ghotbi will be back in Seoul on June 17 –it remains to be seen if ends up at his old home of the capital’s Grand Hilton Hotel - for the final match of the round and one that could be dramatic as well as decisive.

The reason why Ghotbi got the job is because Iran, nicknamed Team Melli, is struggling. A traditional powerhouse of Asian soccer, Iran has collected just six points from five games.

Only the top two teams from the group automatically qualify for the competition so authorities in Tehran are naturally worried at missing out, South Korea leads the group and will hope to have guaranteed qualification before the Persians arrive in Seoul.

As Iran is four points behind Saudi Arabia in third and North Korea in second -, though the pair has played one game more – Iran needs to start picking up points. Most of the dozen-plus sports papers in Tehran reckon that the team needs seven points from its last three games –two of which come on the Korean peninsula.

South Africa should prepare itself to host the Iranian soccer squad," Ghotbi said upon getting the job. "I will do my best to fulfill my ambition to take Iran to the 2010 World Cup. I hope I can be a soldier for Iran.”

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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