When South Korea captain Ji-Sung Park slotted the ball home to ensure that all three points were secured for his country in their opening Group B World Cup match against Greece, he took a major step in his determined vow to lead the Koreans into the next stage of the tournament. It will only be the second time in their history that the Asian powerhouse will get into the last 16 and that was when they were co-hosts with neighbours Japan back in 2002.
The Manchester United all action midfielder knows an improvement on that record will be a big task with Argentina and Nigeria also in their group but that first up victory is the perfect start to the promise he made to his country. Park has little doubt why his team is in South Africa for as he explained during the lead up to the tournament “It is the first World Cup which has been held on the African continent so it is truly an honour to be here. My objective is for us to get into the round of 16, I am not thinking of anything else but that”
Park’s focus was purely on getting the campaign off to a winning start and is not allowing anything to interfere with his own preparation. “The only thing I am thinking about is the match against Greece and about what I have to do. I don’t think about the past. We have to look forward and what is most important for the team is to find a way to meet our first challenge, besides that, I am really not thinking about anything else.”
Having played a key role for his club in all three competitions last season, Park picked up a winner’s medal in the Carling Cup which is the only trophy United managed to win this season. The former PSV Eindhoven midfielder said: “It has given me a lot of experience and also I could get a feel for the atmosphere and I think that will help me relax a little bit more because I have played in a lot of major matches”
“Three lung Park” is now plotting a major World Cup shock when he leads his side into battle with big guns Argentina on Thursday. The 29 year old Asian version of David Beckham set himself up perfectly for the clash with Diego Maradona’s men in their next game.
Park was the first to admit that “Argentina is of course, the strongest team in our group and people are saying they could make the final. They have a lot of top international players. Before the World Cup we played a friendly against Spain and we thought about Argentina as we were playing that game. Of course, there is a lot of difference between the two teams but the unexpected can happen in this World Cup and that is what we are looking to do”
One cannot help but get the impression that the Old Trafford faithful has never fully recognized Park in the five years since his £4m transfer from Dutch club PSV Eindhoven. Those who recollect how close he came to giving United the lead in the first few seconds of that 2-0 defeat at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League Cup Final in Rome last year will always wonder if Park may not have become a United cult hero had the final result turned out to be different.
Another couple of milestones in the clubs history are most likely to have been forgotten as well. Park became the first Asian to ever captain Manchester United when Ryan Giggs passed the armband on to him as the Welsh veteran was being substituted in a Champions League home match against Lille, then become the first Korean player ever to get a Premier League winning medal.
Park’s joining of Manchester United has enriched the football culture in Korea. Many who began watching English football because of Park have now become avid fans. “I would like Park Ji-Sung to become a symbol of challenge for all Koreans” 30 year old Kim Young Woo, who is a great fan of Park said.
Kim said he admires Park for never giving up and admits to watching at least 70 percent of all Manchester United games even if it means staying up until three in the morning on weekdays. “I think young people will look at him and tell themselves that they want to take on challenges too” Kim said.
Something Park wants to see as well. The midfielder signed on a deal to build a Park Ji-Sung football centre in his hometown of Suwon, fully equipped with training areas and football fields. He firmly believes that it will lead to a better future for Korean football.
Is Park given enough recognition by Manchester United fans?