Korea Republic Camp Focus – The last 16 beckons

Despite their heavy 4-1 defeat to Argentina on Thursday, the Korea Republic squad can be relatively happy with their work so far in South Africa. Three points from their first two games, although not perfect, would have been acceptable to Head Coach Huh Jung-Moo before the tournament began.

The defeat against Diego Maradona’s side, one of the teams hotly tipped to win the World Cup, was no disgrace, although they have received some criticism from home. Huh’s tactics have been questioned by some members of the Korean press, claiming that his system was not capable of handling the might of the Argentina attack. Playing captain and talisman Park Ji-Sung centrally rather than out wide has caused some consternation as he was shackled by Javier Mascherano. Criticised too was Huh’s selection of Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i’s Oh Beom-Seok at full-back in preference to Freiburg’s Cha Du-Ri. The Coach, however, has insisted that his team will not be disappointed or discouraged by the result, displaying once more his positive approach to his team’s World Cup adventure. Cho Kwang-Rae, who played during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, has admitted that during his time the players were crippled with nerves and fear, concentrating only on defence. He has recognised now that this is no longer the case and there is instead a confidence that their team can compete against the world’s best.

It is important for one to analyse the situation objectively. As it stands, the Korea Republic are in a great position to go through to the Round of 16. This was the aim at the beginning of the tournament, and the confidence gained from going through qualification unbeaten will not be dented by the result against Argentina. There are several mathematical equations to how the group will shape up and much could depend on the other result between Greece and Argentina. Wins for both the Greeks and the Taeguk Warriors would leave the pair level on six points with Argentina, meaning qualification would be decided on goal difference. The Korea Republic may just need a point to qualify in second place, although approaching their game against Nigeria seeking only a draw will be a dangerous tactic and one that Huh is unwilling to contemplate. “We won’t go out on the field aiming for a tie”, he said. “It will be a difficult match but we will play a winning game.” In simple terms, as long as Argentina beat Greece as is widely predicted, then a Korean Republic victory on Tuesday will see that through.

Preparation has been the key for the Korea Republic thus far and it will remain the case for their remaining game against the Africans. Although their tactical preparation has been focused on, it is their physical work that may well see them through. Huh is a big believer in fitness and stamina work and the statistics prove it – against Greece, his players ran three kilometres more than their opponents, with five players completing more than 10 kilometres each. Much altitude training was also completed prior to the tournament to help the players adapt to the oxygen-sapping heights in several of the South African locations. Maintaining running distances and the high physical performance that is required to be successful at the top level is more difficult. This therefore can have an adverse affect on performance, but efforts were made to ensure that Huh’s team were in optimal condition to deal with this. Most of the players played in Port Elizabeth during overseas training in January and the squad also trained at altitude in Austria directly before the tournament.

One can therefore be reassured that the Korean side will be well organised by the time they face Nigeria in Durban, and the signs are positive. Lee Dong-Gook, who has been struggling with a thigh injury, is expected to start against the Super Eagles, who are likely to be without the services of pair Sani Kaita and Taye Taiwo, the former suspended and the latter injured. The Koreans have an impressive record against the Nigerians, undefeated in their three previous meetings, winning two, and the Africans have lost six of their last seven World Cup finals games. Against Nigeria became the first team to lose a game having taken the lead.

This squad is the best one that Korea Republic have produced, with 10 of the 23 members now playing in oversees leagues. The preparation has been positive and all the signs of them reaching the last 16 are too.

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