Sydney: South Korea will be praying lightning does not strike twice when they face Iraq in the Asian Cup semi-finals on Monday, having limped to the last four battered and bruised.
The Koreans have failed to win Asia`s showcase tournament since 1960 -- a curious anomaly for a country with a proud footballing pedigree and who famously reached the last four of the World Cup in 2002.
But as coach Uli Stielike tries to rouse his injury-hit squad for Monday`s clash, memories of Iraq`s fairytale run to the 2007 Asian Cup title still haunt the Red Devils.
South Korea were stunned on penalties in the semi-finals by Iraq, who went on to beat Saudi Arabia in the final in Jakarta, talisman Younis Mahmoud heading the winner to bring a small measure of comfort to the war-torn country.
"Of course it was very special for Iraq won the Asian Cup in 2007," Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil told reporters. "The hardships our country has been suffering makes it very hard for us, but hopefully this new generation of players can remind our people of 2007.
"We have a lot of history with Korea," he added. "They are a great team, one of the best in Asia but rankings mean nothing in the semi-finals. All four teams can win it and every team is under pressure."
Iraq`s preparations were not helped after Iran complained the Iraqis had fielded an ineligible player in Friday`s quarter-final defeat, although the Asian Football Confederation threw out Iran`s formal protest.Stielike has been busy patching up his walking wounded and will be hoping South Korea`s golden boy Son Heung-Min can repeat his midweek heroics, when he struck twice in extra time in the 2-0 quarter-final win over Uzbekistan.
The mercurial forward, dubbed "Sonaldo" by his team-mates at German club Bayer Leverkusen, produced a superhuman display, despite not having fully recovered from a flu bug, and left the pitch on a stretcher.
Stielike`s wish that Iraq and Iran also battle each other to a standstill came true as the bitter rivals tore furiously into each other in an ill-tempered game in Canberra, Iraq prevailing 7-6 on penalties after a helter-skelter 3-3 draw.
With injuries ending the involvement of winger Lee Chung-Yong and midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol, and Son struggling for fitness, Stielike has been monitoring daily medical reports but insisted his players were ready to go.
"Other than Lee and Koo, there is no sorrow over injuries or sickness," he said, wary of his side`s status as overwhelming favourites.
"Sport is all about surprises. If we don`t want to have a surprise tomorrow then we have to work very hard.
"If you look at Melbourne Park, Roger Federer is out of the (Australian Open tennis) We have to accept we are favourites but we are also playing the champions of 2007 -- it`s history but it`s fact."
Either hosts Australia or the United Arab Emirates await in the final in Sydney on January 31.