It is almost two years since the South Korean national team last ventured outside the borders of Asia. This weekend sees the Taeguk Warriors in Europe for the first of two 2010 World Cup warm-up matches against tough opposition.
Saturday sees the team in Denmark and then four days later; Huh Jung-moo takes his players west to London to face Serbia.
London was the last non-Asian city to see South Korea in action. In February 2007, a Lee Chun-soo free-kick gave his team a 1-0 win over then-European champions Greece. Before the return to the English capital and Fulham FC’s stadium Craven Cottage, there is the match in the Danish city of Esbjerg.
The Scandinavians surprised a few observers by winning their 2010 qualification group ahead of Portugal and bitter rivals Sweden. Well-organized and hard to beat, the Danes will give the visitors a thorough examination. The two teams last met ahead of the 2006 World Cup in Hong Kong when the Europeans deservedly won 3-1.
This is a different Korean team now though. The 2002 World Cup semifinalists have gone 26 games unbeaten. The roster for these two matches contained few surprises though eyebrows (and perhaps Scottish blood pressure) were raised at the inclusion of Park Ji-sung.
Of course, all agree that the captain should usually be the first name on the teamsheet but the sticking point is that Park is supposedly injured. The 28 year-old has not pulled on the famous red shirt since returning from national team duty against Senegal on October 10.
A knee problem has prevented appearances and just three days after club boss Alex Ferguson was telling reporters that Park needed two more weeks to recover, coach Huh was summoning the player. The Korean media suggested that Huh may have upset the fiery Scot.
"I did not discuss this issue with Ferguson, but I did have a good talk with Park," Huh said at a press conference in Seoul last Monday.
"In this case, the most important opinion is that of the player's not his coach. Clubs should not interfere in national team selection. Park is participating in full training at United, so I don't understand why Ferguson would try to stop him from joining us."
Park will join his compatriot Bolton Wanderers’ Lee Chung-yong. Lee has made an impressive start to his English Premier League career and is full of confidence.
He will need to be against a Denmark team that contains players from the Danish league as well as England, Germany and Italy. While results are not hugely important in these games, a tie or a win would be welcomed.
The same applies to Serbia. The match in London takes place not far away from the city’s ‘Koreatown’ and there will be a good deal of support for the East Asians. The Balkan boys struggled at the 2006 World Cup, coached by Ilja Petkovic the current boss of Incheon United, but this vintage looks much better.
Despite being grouped with 2006 finalists, France, Serbia cruised through qualification and with players such as Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United and Inter Milan’s Dejan Stankovic, the team, just four days after taking on Northern Ireland, will present a tough test to South Korea.
"Northern Ireland and South Korea have very contrasting styles and the matches with them will be a good opportunity for my players to keep learning and adapt to all kinds of tactics,” said Serbia coach Radomir Antic.
The same could be said for South Korea.
Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com
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