With Premier League stars falling foul to the World Cup injury nightmare in recent days, followers of the Korea Republic will be happy to hear that talisman captain Park Ji-Sung is fit to play a full part in the World Cup. There was a real worry that Park would miss the action in South Africa as he sat out their final warm-up game against Spain with a thigh injury. Huh Jung-Moo however confirmed that his absence was precautionary, with Park now fine and ready to go. However, Korea Republic do have injury worries ahead of the World Cup, as question marks persist about the fitness of injury-prone striker, Lee Dong-Gook, who has missed the last two World Cup finals and is also currently nursing a thigh problem. His inclusion may be as much to do with the squad’s lack of attacking options, rather than a reliance on the front man, who is not expected to be fit for the opening game against Greece.
Manchester United workhorse Park has been particularly philosophical about his national team in recent days, stating that he hopes that this World Cup will be his last. This is not due to retirement however, but down to his belief that he may struggle to get into future squads as the young players coming through progress and get stronger. There are certainly some good young players to keep an eye on in South Africa, including three of their European-based youngsters. Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong, Monaco’s Park Chu-Young and Celtic’s Ki Sung-Yong have all made positive impacts with their current clubs and the Koreans hope that they can develop more players that are capable of impacting major European leagues. Indeed there is a lot of confidence around the camp in general following their qualifying campaign in which they were the only Asian side to qualify unbeaten. The nation will hope that this confidence is not misplaced as Korea have only won one finals game outside their own territory (and that against minnows Togo in Germany four years ago), something they will also be keen on addressing. A repeat of 2002 is on their radar rather than a repeat of 2006.
Group B adds a certain conundrum to the equation. The top seed, and favourites to win the group, Argentina, are becoming increasingly unpredictable under Head Coach Diego Maradona. However disorganised they come across, boasting some of the game’s biggest names will certainly test the resolve of the young players in Huh Jung-Moo’s squad. Nigeria, experiencing their own injury difficulties with the withdrawl of John Obi Mikel, will be looking to be successful on their home continent and will have a massive following in South Africa. This will be a different type of test for the Taegeuk Warriors, and one where they may need points as it is the last game of the group. The first game against Greece however may be the most pivotal, with a good start against the Euro 2004 champions imperative. Greece are also aware of the need for a good start in this group with Greek defender Nikos Spiropoulos already calling the Group B clash as the crunch game of the section. If the Korea Republic fail to gain at least a point from Greece, then they would go on to a difficult match against Argentina to stay in the competition.
Korea Republic will need to be as organised and as enthusiastic as everyone believes they can be to carry their confidence through the tournament in South Africa, but they will feel that getting out of the group is achievable. Huh Jung-Moo certainly believes.