Port Elizabeth: South Korea and Uruguay meet here on Saturday in a fascinating World Cup last 16 clash that few pundits would have predicted at the start of the tournament.
The Asian giants have earned a reputation as set piece masters in South Africa, with three of their five first round goals coming from freekicks, some feat given the unpredictability of the Jabulani ball.
That prowess will be tested to the full at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium against a Uruguay side with a rock solid defence that has yet to concede a goal.
Uruguay made it to the second round as surprise winners of Group A after holding France to a goalless draw, beating hosts South Africa 3-0, and closing with a 1-0 win over Mexico, Ajax striker Luis Suarez getting the all important goal.
Uruguay, winners of the inaugural World Cup on home soil in 1930 and again in 1950, crashed out on their last appearance in 2002 when co-hosts South Korea made it into the semi-finals.
A last four place is again the target coach Huh Jung-Moo has set for his Asian giants in South Africa.
“We have achieved our first objective of reaching the round of 16,” Huh, an accomplished changgi (Korean chess) player, said.
“After that, anybody can guess what our next objective might be, but I know that the players will immediately set a higher target.
“They won’t be satisfied now with just having progressed. They will want to get to the semi-finals.”
South Korea have punched above their weight to finish runners-up in Group B.
They opened in style with a 2-0 win over former European champions Greece, on their first visit to Port Elizabeth.
A 4-1 rout by Argentina followed but they put that reverse behind them when holding Nigeria to a 2-2 draw in Durban on Tuesday.
Huh observed: “It’s the first time we reached the second round at a World Cup abroad. I’m very proud and very happy.”
South Korea captain and Manchester United winger Ji-Sung Park, who scored in the win over Greece, told The Daily Yomiuri: “It’s a first for us to qualify away from home.
“We watched a few of Uruguay’s games, they have quality and they are strong and their performances were great in the group stages. We have to prepare well for that game.”
Uruguay’s experienced Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan spoke for his part on Thursday about “a difficult game ahead”.
The former Manchester United forward said: “South Korea played very well in the 2002 World Cup. We respect them, we know it’s going to be hard. We will try to turn any mistakes they make into goals for us.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has warned South Korea there’s more to come from his buoyant side.
“I think so far in this phase we’ve showed that we are a tough team to tackle for the others. We are trying to do what we had exactly in mind before the tournament. Now I don’t think we’ve achieved that yet, but Uruguay is now a difficult opponent for anybody.
“As a coach it is very satisfying to see how the group has evolved. This is an excellent group, there is cohesion and friendship among the players and they are really dedicated to the job they are doing.”
Both teams have been barred from training at the stadium prior to the game to allow the pitch, which took a battering with last week’s rain, time to recover from England’s visit on Wednesday.
Key To Match
Ji-Sung Park Park’s big match experience with Manchester United coupled with his play-making prowess will be crucial for South Korea up against a Uruguay side featuring United old boy Diego Forlan, in fine fettle here with a double against South Africa.