Saturday, February 2, 2008

Just 51 Ten Minutes

Lee Hyo-ri
Not too long ago, sexy Korean pop sensation Lee Hyo-ri famously sang “just one ten minutes”. The sultry songstress suggested that she could score with any man within that period of time. After Wednesday's defeat at the hands of Chile, South Korea’s footballers would have to sing "just 51 ten minutes" as the national team’s scoring drought stretches to almost biblical proportions.

Lee’s song was probably top of the charts when the Taeguk Warriors last hit the back of the net. While 90,000 Indonesians were present when Kim Jung-woo scored in Jakarta last July, there was only a select group of Korean witnesses. Soon, they could be sporting t-shirts that read “I saw Korea score.”

South Korea get ready for Chile

It won’t be t-shirt weather on Wednesday night when Turkmenistan comes to Seoul for the hosts’ first game of the 2010 World Cup qualification campaign. It certainly wasn’t last week either when Chile coolly won 1-0 at a three-quarters empty Seoul World Cup Stadium in Huh Jung-moo’s first game back as coach. A young and inexperienced team, freezing weather and Korea's Olympic handball play-off with Japan had contrived to keep the fans away.

Most fans chose to stay home on a freezing night

The exhibition display, described as ‘toothless’ by most TV news stations, did little to warm those present . After 506 minutes of goalless football, there is little to be happy about as a Korean fan though Huh has promised a better performance on Wednesday.

Korean boss Huh Jung-moo

He could be right as Park Ji-sung, one of the few Koreans more famous than the ubiquitous Lee Hyo-ri, returns home to take control of the situation. Park was absent from the Asian Cup through injury, as was Tottenham’s Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyeon of Fulham, but now all three are fully fit and ready to go. There should be a full house despite the fact that Seoul almost empties during festivities that celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Despite the lack of action in front of goal, the consolation is that Korea still managed to finish third at the Asian Cup and that the real action starts now. Failure to defeat a fairly physical, but rather limited, Turkmenistan team (ranked 128 in the world by FIFA, Korea are 41st) would put real pressure not only on the team but also the coach.

Chile coach Marco Bielsa

At this moment, few care if the next goal comes from a Christiano Ronaldo-style super shot or if it hits the backside of captain Kim Nam-il and rolls over the line. Three points are what is needed if the Year of the Mouse is to start on a positive note.

Also positive is the fact that the other two teams in the group are hardly Asia’s finest. It could have been much worse for Korea. Australia was drawn with China, Asian champions Iraq and Asian Games winners Qatar. Korea has, as well as the Turkmen, only North Korea and Jordan to worry about.

After Wednesday night, the next game in the group, from which the top two progress to the final round of qualification, sees South Korea make the short trip to Pyongyang in March. That will certainly be an interesting trip both in football, and other, terms. It will be a much more comfortable trip for the Taeguk Warriors if they have three points under their belt.

Korea and Chile shake hands

Whether that happens or not depends on Wednesday. Three years ago in the middle of the Lunar New Year holiday, Korea faced Kuwait in Seoul in another World Cup qualifier. Lee Young-pyo got the ball rolling that night, another sub-zero encounter, before a spectacular volley from Lee Dong-gook settled the encounter.

The latter Lee is still banned from the national team after late-night drinking sessions at the Asian Cup but even he may raise a glass back in England if Korea’s first steps on the road to South Africa in 2010 turn out to be firm and steady.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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