Park Ji-sung urges South Korea to prove 2002 was no fluke
The knockout stages of the World Cup get under way tomorrow with Park Ji-sung, the South Korea captain, challenging the team to show that their epic run to the semi-finals in 2002 was not a fluke.sports Updated: Jun 26, 2010 11:34 IST
The knockout stages of the World Cup get under way tomorrow with Park Ji-sung, the South Korea captain, challenging the team to show that their epic run to the semi-finals in 2002 was not a fluke.
This is the first time Korea have qualified from the group stages outside co-hosting the tournament, and they will play Uruguay in Port Elizabeth for the right to become the first side into the quarter-finals. Park was part of the side that eliminated Spain and Italy before losing to Germany in the semi-finals eight years ago and he believes the current team may be even better.
"The biggest change is experience," he said. "In 2002 we already had some players playing in foreign leagues but this time around we have a lot of players whohave either played in European leagues or are currently playing there and that in itselfhas been a great help forus."
Park was named man of the match in the 2-0 defeat of Greece as well as the 2-2 draw against Nigeria that sealed their qualification from Group B and he said he had received a good-luck message from Manchester United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.
"We ourselves don't have a clear conviction of how far we can go but in 2002 we made it to the semi-finals and I don't think that was just because it was on home ground," the 29-year-old said.
"We will do our best to prove that was not the case. I can't compare this team to the 2002 team that was the best team in our history but this 2010 team is improving and we have got through the first round of games. At the end of the World Cup we will be able to compare the previous team with this one and hopefully then we can say we are better."
Uruguay, however, are ranked 16th in Fifa's world rankings, 31 places abovethe Koreans, and have not conceded a goal in their opening three games while scoring four. After winning Group A and helping to eliminate both France and the hosts South Africa, the South Americans are entitled to be regarded as the favourites to reach a quarter-final against the USA or Ghana.
The draw has been kind although the Uruguayan coach, Oscar Tabrez, said today that his team could not be regarded as potential champions. "We still think that is out of our reach but we have our hopes and our dreams," he said.
Tabrez was only three when his nation last won the tournament, their second, in Brazil in 1950. "To talk about that team is to talk about people who are right up there in heaven. We hold them in extraordinary esteem.
"I don't know what would happen if we were to achieve what that team did. In 1950 and throughout my childhood I heard talk about those champions. We are going to continue to try doing our best and let history be."