Park Ji-sung arrives back home
The build-up for South Korea’s summer series of qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup started the minute Park Ji-sung arrived at Incheon International Airport last Saturday, dressed in the words of some reports, “like a model” in a white jacket and pink shirt.
All attention had been centred on Park’s Qq Online non-appearance in the UEFA Champions League final on May 21 when Manchester United defeated Chelsea. That is all in the past now as Park told reporters at the arrival gate: “Qualification for the World Cup is now my biggest goal.”
South Korea continues its journey along the road to the 2010 World Cup on Saturday with a home match against Jordan at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Saturday. The Taeguk Warriors sit in top spot in Group Three with four points from the first two games. The top two from the four nations progress to the final round of qualification.
It is a busy time as in the three weeks following the Seoul match, coach Huh Jung-moo will take his team to Jordan for a return match and then on to Turkmenistan before returning to Seoul to face North Korea on June 22.
With failing to progress to the next round unthinkable, Huh has decided to trust in some familiar faces. The selection of Korea’s English Premier League players was no surprise but the recall of Ahn Jung-hwan for the first time in almost two years was a big story. Ahn was a hero of the 2002, and to a lesser extent, the 2006 World Cup. Since that time he has been back in the K-league but only scored his first goal in the competition last week for Busan I’Park.
And that didn’t really count. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma had taken the lead at Busan by breaking one of soccer’s unwritten rules which states that if a player kicks the ball out of play because of an injured team-mate, the resultant throw-in is thrown back to that team. Seongnam didn’t seem to think this was necessary, won possession from the throw-in and scored the opening goal.
Seongnam coach Kim Hak-beom was none too impressed with his players and told them that they had to allow Busan to score. It came to pass that the Seongnam players stood around as Ahn dribbled up the pitch to put the ball into the net.
The 32 year-old may not have scored many but he has been playing well for Busan, the team at the bottom of the league. “Although being overshadowed by his team’s poor record, Ahn’s play on the pitch proves that his stamina and skills are at a high level,” Huh told reporters. “Ahn is in good form, and I think his veteran presence and wealth of experience in big tournaments will provide valuable leadership to the team.”
We could even see a frontline made up of 2002 stars including Park and Seol Ki-hyeon. Huh’s selections are conservative but given that failure to finish in the top two would cost him his job and reputation, it is perhaps not surprising that some of the K-League’s young prospects have not been considered. Suwon pair Seo Dong-hyun and Shin Young-rok are in better form than any of the strikers that Huh chose as are the Daegu duo of Jang Nam-seok and Lee Keun-ho.
Jordan, who lost 2-0 in a warm-up game in China last weekend, should not be underestimated but should not pose too tough a threat in Seoul. The team has belied its reputation as strong at home but weak away so far in the qualification campaign. An opening day defeat in Amman at the hands of the North Koreans was followed by a win at the home of Turkmenistan.
Avoiding defeat in Seoul would be a huge result for the team led by well-traveled Portuguese coach Nelo Vingada.
It would also make huge trouble for Huh Jung-moo but the old boys should be able to ensure that South Korea take another step closer to South Africa.