Port Elizabeth: A little chest-beating and trumpet-blowing was the order of the day for one of the World Cup’s most humble teams on Friday when South Korea broke out of character to talk up their chances.
On the eve of their eighth appearance on soccer’s biggest stage, the normally modest and guarded team talked of wins, aggressive play and plenty of goals, seemingly eager to prove they would not be first-round flops.
“I believe this is the time for us to step up,” coach Huh Jung-moo told a news conference ahead of their opening Group B match with Greece in Port Elizabeth, nodding his head affirmatively.
“We have players playing in Europe and in the Premier League and it’s time for us to show Korean football has grown, not only in Asia but on the international stage. Now is the time for us to show that to the rest of the world,” he said.
But for their staggering march to the semi-finals as co-hosts of the tournament in 2002, South Korea have done little to ditch their inferiority complex on the world stage having won only one game on foreign soil in their seven World Cup appearances.
Huh, the first Korean to coach a World Cup side since 1998, rejected talk that his side, unbeaten in qualifying, would struggle to break their hoodoo in the tournament.
“It’s important we present the real Korean football performance level at these matches here,” he said.
“I want to lose the image we are not good away from home because our players have the resolve and we’ll show that tomorrow.”
The team’s iconic captain, Park Ji-sung said playing in big matches for English heavyweights Manchester United had boosted his confidence and other European-based Koreans had raised their game and were leading by example.
“The current players have a lot of experience on European stage, that’s the biggest difference,” said Park, one of six members of the South Korean squad playing in England, Scotland, Germany, France and Russia.
“Young Korean players now have the strong mindset to play against the big teams.”
Park’s 2006 World Cup was blighted by injury but he insisted he was in peak condition this time around after sustaining a thigh injury in a warm-up match.
He promised his team would play aggressively and was targeting a win against Greece by at least three goals -- a stark contrast to the team’s more familiar World Cup mantras about doing their best.
Reaching the second round was the only thing on his mind, he said.
“I’ll show my full ability and I’ll be completely different from 2006,” he said.
“I don’t want to compare with the past, we have to look forward. What is important is we have to win, besides that, i have no other thoughts.