Monday, June 15, 2009

South Korea Still Has Part To Play In World Cup Qualification

South Korea Still Has Part To Play In World Cup Qualification.
For South Korea, the 2010 World Cup qualification campaign is almost over and first place in the group guaranteed. There is still one act to be played out however and it promises to be an intriguing one.

The final game takes place on Wednesday. South Korea have bagged the first of two automatic qualification spots which leaves one up for grabs. There are three teams that would very much like to take that second slot, third place is not the end of the world as it offers a play-off route to South Africa. Fourth equals nothing.

The Taeguk Warriors will have a big say in just who gets what. At the moment, North Korea is in second with eleven points, above Saudi Arabia on goal difference while Iran is in fourth and just a point behind. But it really is anybody’s place. North Korea travels to Saudi Arabia for the last match while Iran comes to Seoul led by Afshin Ghotbi, a former assistant coach of the South Korean national team.

The winner in the Riyadh clash will take the second spot and it promises to be some night at the King Fahd International Stadium. If the game ends in a tie then North Korea will take second place – but not if Iran wins in Seoul.

South Korea can do its neighbour a huge favour by defeating an Iranian team that is desperate to win. Ghotbi is desperate to take his team to South Africa and after serving under Guus Hiddink, Dick Advocaat and Pim Verbeek at the 2002, 2006 World Cups and 2007 Asian Cup respectively, he has a good deal of inside knowledge.

"I know South Korea well and I know their players - we were in a World Cup together,” Ghotbi told reporters in Tehran last week after Iran defeated group whipping-boys UAE 1-0 to stay in the hunt.

He also warned the nation’s excitable sports media that although South Korea has already qualified for South Africa, it will not be an easy game at Seoul World Cup Stadium.

“But I don't accept that they'll lack motivation. Every team in the world has motivation, just like the Emirates did today."

Motivation could be there for two reasons. The first is that South Korea and Iran have a healthy football rivalry and don’t like to lose to the other, especially at home. The other is that if South Korea wins, it would give North Korea a great chance to make it a delightful double for the Korean peninsula.

Despite the recent bad feeling between the two nations politically, there is no doubt that the media and the vast majority of fans south of the 38th Parallel would love to see both Koreas battling with the world’s best in South Africa.

‘Let’s go together’ is a common refrain heard on television news and seen on the front pages of the sports newspapers. It has never happened before. South Korea may be looking at a ninth appearance on the global stage but North Korea has made it just the once, back in 1966.

That has gone done in the history books and not just in Pyongyang’s version. Held in England, Pak Do-ik (nicknamed the ‘Yellow-Pearl’ in those less PC-days), scored a famous goal to eliminate the mighty Italy. Then came a quarter-final tie against Portugal. The East Asians raced into a three-goal lead in Liverpool only for the Portuguese, led by the legendary Black Pearl, Eusebio, to comeback to win 5-3.

As far as Asia goes, only South Korea has performed better on the world stage in 2002.

Football fans all over the peninsula will be hoping that both teams get the chance to shock the world once more in the summer of 2010.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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