South Korea captain Ji Sung Park admits that qualifying for the semi finals of the 2002 World Cup was a little miracle but that it’s possible for it to happen again in South Africa. “Obviously 2002 was a great achievment for us, it was a miracle but there’s nothing to say that it cannot happen again” the 29 year old Manchester United midfield dynamo warned. But then Park quickly added that the odds of a repeat performance are very slim “Actually our goal is to get through to the second round and we don’t even think about going any further”
South Korea open their 2010 campaign against Greece in Group B which also includes Argentina and Nigeria, not exactly a group of death but certainly a tough one to get out of. Park was a member of South Korea’s squad in 2002 when they had a decided home advantage but the Koreans managed to achieve the best result of any Asian nation in the World Cup.
Dutch master coach Guus Hiddink used his vast tactical knowledge to mastermind sensational victories over Portugal, Italy and Spain before getting beaten 1-0 to Germany. At the last tournament in Germany however, the South Koreans bowed out in the group stage after they beat Togo 2-1, held France to a 1-1 draw thanks to a Park’s late equaliser then lost 2-0 to Switzerland.
South Korea are no strangers to the finals with 2010 being their seventh straight World Cup appearance. They are coached by 55 year old Huh Jung-Moo and also features Bolton Wanderers Lee Chung-Yong, Park Chu-Young of AS Monaco and Celtic’s Ki Sung-Yueng. “Our team is quite well organized” says Park “as we have a good blend of young and experienced players”
Park is one of those vastly experienced internationals who is idolized at home and highly respected in Holland where he was one of Hiddinks key men at PSV Eindhoven before Sir Alex Ferguson took him to Old Trafford. Having made two hugely successful tours to Seoul since Park joined the club, United have certainly gained far in excess of the £4million they paid for the midfielder.
But the high energy Park insists that he is not at Old Trafford purely for selling United shirts “I didn’t get a sense of just being signed for commercial reasons” he explained “I wanted to show that Asian players can succeed in Europe. It was far more important for me to become a better player which is why I came to Europe in the first place”
“I do not think of myself as a standard bearer for Asian players, I just try to work hard for myself” he went on “Once I became better known I was proud that people in Asia started to look up to me. All the Asian people respect and watch me play on television, but I don’t want people to think of me as an Asian player. I am just a football player”
Whenever Park goes home he is treated like royalty by the football mad Koreans. He admits that it can get too much for him at times but finds that playing his club football so far from home relieves much of the pressure. “I feel better about being at Manchester United now” he confesses.
“Initially I was naturally worried that I may find it difficult to settle because you can never be certain about succeeding until it happens” the midfielder added “now I feel quite confident, I am mentally tuned in. The fans have also been supporting me which makes me more assured about showing my ability on the pitch”
The millions of fans in South Korea can be absolutely certain of one thing. Should that little miracle which Park is praying for happens to occur next month, one of its main instigators will most certainly be the country’s captain himself.
Which two countries from Group B will qualify for the last 16?