You may not think that a match in Seoul against Paraguay on Wednesday marks the start of the road to the 2010 World Cup for South Korea but it does. It is the first of what will amount to close to 20 preparation games for the Taeguk Warriors as they set their sights on South Africa.
Everything is now geared towards next June. Unlike most Asian nations, the Koreans don’t even have to worry about qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup – that spot was clinched automatically after third place at the 2007 version. Coach Huh Jung-moo just has to think globally.
The game against Paraguay marks the first non-Asian opposition for the team since January 2008 – the first game of Huh’s reign. That match against the headline-writer’s dream that is Chile, was also the first and, to date, only loss that the team has suffered under the grizzled tactician.
An inter-continental Judi Slot match-up has been a long time coming. While it is hard to be too critical of that considering that the team has been working its way through the Asian zone of World Cup qualification, Japan has been doing the same but at the same time managed to squeeze games in against teams from Europe, Africa and South America.
Latin American adversaries have often caused problems for South Korea and Paraguay, ranked 28 places above the host at number 20 in the world; will be a tough test as it prepares for vital World Cup qualification matches against Bolivia and Argentina in September. Two good results there should see the boys from Asuncion ascend to the summit that is South Africa.
The Seoul media, and no doubt a good number of young women in the capital, are disappointed that the visitors’ best known player and all-round heart-throb Roque Santa Cruz, who recently cost Manchester City around $30 million, is injured and absent.
Manchester United star Park Ji-sung is fit and healthy but he won’t be playing either. With the English Premier League season starting just three days after the match, coach Huh has left the 28 year-old at home in order to stake a claim for a spot in the starting eleven for the English champions.
Huh has no such qualms about summoning Cho Won-hee of, the less glamorous English top tier team, Wigan Athletic as well as Park Chu-young who is starting his second season in Ligue One with AS Monaco.
Lee Young-pyo is not playing in Europe for the first time since the end of 2002. After his spells with PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham Hotspur in London and then last season with Borussia Dortmund, the popular and versatile defender is back in Asia . He recently joined Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal. After making 105 appearances in the famous red shirt of the national team, the 2010 World Cup will be Lee’s last.
As well as the old boys, there are some very new faces that could be facing the South Americans tonight. Two boys from Busan Lee Kang-jin and Lee Sung-hyun are hoping that they make it across the white line for the first time. Pohang defender Kim Hyung-il wants to add to his solitary appearance.
Much attention was focused on whether Lee Dong-gook would be called up for the first time since the summer of 2007. His 14 K-League goals this season so far have put him in the headlines and as of last week, back in the national team. The Lion King needs to show that he has something to offer but his experience, has scored 22 goals in 71 games for South Korea, is something that the Taeguk Warriors are in need of.
He is set to start and will be partnered by either Lee Keun-ho of Japan’s Jubilo Iwata or Park Chu-young.
All strikers know that a couple of goals in this game against Paraguay tonight or against Australia in September will give them an early claim to one of the two starting spots in offer in South Africa next summer.
It all starts now.