Seoul: South Korea swaggered through Asian qualifying with an unblemished record and will head to the World Cup finals with an air of confidence not seen since the wonder years of Guus Hiddink.
While skipper Park Ji-sung remains the beating heart of the team, the dynamic Manchester United midfielder now has a supporting cast that should help South Korea to advance from Group B and reach the last 16.
Surprise semi-finalists on home soil in 2002, the Koreans stumbled at the group stage in Germany four years ago but have enjoyed a purple patch under coach Huh Jung-moo, going 27 games unbeaten until a 1-0 loss to Serbia in November.
While some feared the appointment of Huh marked a return to the `Old Guard` and would undo years of progress under coaches such as Hiddink, Dick Advocaat and Pim Verbeek, the hard-nosed 55-year-old has been quick to embrace the youth and zest coursing through the squad.
Park Chu-young, the foal-like striker once thought too frail to make the grade, is banging in goals with AS Monaco while a midfield duo dubbed "Double Dragon" have made fiery debuts in Europe.
Lee Chung-yong and Ki Sung-yong`s partnership at FC Seoul earned them lucrative transfers to Bolton and Glasgow Celtic. The 21-year-olds share the Chinese character "yong" (dragon) in their names and will hope to rekindle their fire in South Africa.
South Korea will be targeting maximum points from Greece and Nigeria but getting anything from Argentina will be a tall order.
The Koreans were brushed aside 3-1 by Argentina at the 1986 World Cup, a game Diego Maradona remembers as being more like taekwondo than football thanks to the heavy-handed tactics employed by the Asian side.
Maradona`s marker that day, a certain Huh Jung-moo, makes no apologies for their approach and suggested Lionel Messi and his team mates could be in for a rough ride when they meet in Johannesburg on June 17.
"If I am asked to play Maradona and Argentina again, I will do the same thing," the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website (www.the-afc.com) quoted Huh as saying.
"I don`t want to give them an easy win. I will stop them. I will fight them.”
"We will try to cut down their speed and reduce their tempo. Counter-attacks are crucial. They will be the key."
South Korea, who stand to earn USD 150,000 per man for reaching the second round, kick off their World Cup finals campaign against Greece in Port Elizabeth on June 12 and meet Nigeria 10 days later in Durban.
It is not pleasant at all that I had to approach the court but there was no option left for me. I am glad that I have been proved right and it has lifted my morale ahead for the Asian Games.
Manoj Kumar, Indian boxer