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North and South face off on the field

Apr 01,2009
The South Korean national football team trains at the NFC training center in Paju, Gyeonggi, in preparation for today’s World Cup qualifying match against North Korea. [YONHAP]
As the hostility continues to rise between the two Koreas, the countries will face off against each other tonight. The battleground will be Seoul World Cup Stadium, as the South fights for a spot in the 2010 World Cup.

The match will be played against a tense backdrop, as the North has said it is preparing to launch a rocket sometime from April 4 to 8.

Politics aside, the match is of obvious importance to South Korea, as it is trailing the North in the Group B standings. The South Koreans must win tonight’s game if they want to stay ahead of Saudi Arabia, who is behind by a point, in third place.

The South is coming off a 2-1 victory in a friendly match against Iraq, and North Korea defeated the struggling United Arab Emirates 2-0 in a recent Group B match.

Both teams will be missing an important piece of their lineup. The South will be without Cho Won-hee of Wigan Athletic, who injured his right calf in the friendly against Iraq.

“I had thought about Cho Won-hee as a replacement for Kim Jung-woo,” said South Korean head coach Huh Jung-moo. “However, Cho’s availability is unclear due to an injury. We have two to three players who can fill that position.”

North Korea will be without Ahn Young-hak, who cannot play in the game due to yellow cards.

“Ahn is a key player for us,” said North Korean coach Kim Jong-hun. “We won’t be able to include him in the lineup but we will fill that position and play a strategically good game.”

The North Korean football team did not participate in any international matches starting in 1993, but returned to the international stage in 1998. The team began to earn respect a decade ago under Kim’s tutelage. Over the years, the team has perfected the art of defensive football with timely counter attacks.

The North Koreans, using six to seven players to seal off defensive zones, has only given up eight goals in the past 20 games. Huh has tied all four games against the North since taking over the manager position.

A switch from size to speed has been made for tonight’s match as Huh has settled on the Park Chu-young of AS Monaco and Lee Keun-ho as the starting forwards. In the past, Huh had started taller players such as Cho Jae-jin and Ko Ki-goo.

In order to break through the North’s fortifications, the South Korean players must look to take advantage of corner and free kicks. In the past four meetings with the North, the South has only managed to score two goals. One came from a Yeom Ki-hun free kick. This time around, many are counting on Ki Sung-yueng, who is developing into a solid free kicker. The 20-year-old midfielder assisted on Park Ji-sung’s equalizer in a match against Iran in February. In the past 10 games, including those for FC Seoul, Ki has assisted on four goals from corner and free kicks.

In the friendly against Iraq, Huh stressed two points: attention to detail and a strong finish. Park Chu-young has stated there is room to maneuver in the North Korean defense. In set piece situations, the South will have to use their tall defenders to their advantage. Jung Sung-hoon of Busan I’Park can also be used in the second half to bolster the team’s attack.

Since settling on a draw against North Korea in December 1978 in an Asian Games final in Bangkok, Thailand, South Korea has a marked five wins, seven ties and one loss against the North. They also lead in goals scored, having hit 12 and given up six.

In other Asian qualifying matchups today, Australia faces Uzbekistan and Bahrain plays Qatar. Saudi Arabia, who is currently in third place in Group B plays the U.A.E. tomorrow at 2:30 a.m.


By Jason Kim, Jang Chi-hyuk [jason@joongang.co.kr]



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