Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Good African Test For Korea In London
South Korea are no exception and take on fellow qualifiers Ivory Coast in London. The English capital is becoming a second home for the Taeguk Warriors. Not only is it a convenient base for coach Huh Jung-moo's European stars, the big-name European and African teams are happier to play South Korea in London than make the long journey to East Asia.
Ivory Coast is considered to be the strongest of the African contingent at the World Cup which starts in June – the so-called 'six-pack'. Didier Drogba is considered to be the best African striker and one of the best in the world. That is another benefit of playing in London. Such stars are less likely to pick up mysterious injuries and pull out of exhibition games in far-flung locales.
This is often to the relief, or, if you are cynical, due to the suggestion of club coaches who don’t want their best players travelling around the world at a crucial stage of the domestic season. For Drogba, it won’t be a problem. He plays his club football for West London club Chelsea. Ivory Coast meets Korea just down the road from Chelsea’s stadium at the compact Loftus Road home of Queens Park Rangers.
Much attention in Seoul will be focused on how Korea’s delicate defense copes with the powerful Ivorian. A 3-0 defeat at the hands of China last month saw coach Huh Jung-moo blasted by fans after a chaotic performance at the back. Huh has selected largely the same defenders for the much tougher test on offer on Wednesday and the likes of Cho Yong-hyong and Kwak Tae-hwi have much to prove. Kang Min-soo is spared the test as he is injured.
A good performance against Drogba will go a long way to silencing their critics but it may not silence the rest of the ‘Elephants’. Drogba’s Chelsea team-mate Salomon Kalou needs to be watched though the tricky Gervinho is injured. Elsewhere in the ranks, the African team boasts players who play for the likes of Arsenal, Sevilla, Manchester City, Stuttgart and world and European champions Barcelona.
Korea is not without European stars. Park Ji-sung of Manchester United will captain the team and will line up with Bolton Wanderers winger Lee Chung-yong and Celtic's Ki Sung-yong. AS Monaco striker Park Chu-young, who has been in fine form this season and has established himself as one of the leading attackers in the French league, is injured.
As expected, Huh called 2002 and 2006 hero Ahn Jung-hwan. The striker, now 34, hasn’t featured for the national team since June 2008 but is now back in the national team set-up.
“Ahn Jung-hwan has the experience and ability we need and performed well in the past two World Cups,” Huh said as the squad was announced last week. “I think he’s capable of making an impact for the team even if he plays for a short period of time on the pitch.”
“With the World Cup in South Africa around the corner, I chose the players in their best form at the moment,” Huh explained. “Although there are other factors like injury and in some positions, I picked most competitive players ahead of the Finals.”
For both teams, the attractions of playing each other are obvious. Ivory Coast has been placed in ‘The Group of Death’ in South Africa. This may mean tough tests against Brazil and Portugal but it also means a game against North Korea that must be won if a place is to be had in the second round. The African team assumes, not unreasonably, that the best way to practice playing against North Korea is to play against South Korea.
For coach Huh, it is all about Nigeria. South Korea has tended to struggle against powerful and skilful African teams in the past and none fits that description better than Ivory Coast. Nigeria is the last team that South Korea faces after Greece and Argentina. It could be a crucial game in Durban and it is one that could be influenced by what happens in London on Wednesday evening.