[SPORTS VIEW]For Samsung Lions, the pressure's on

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[SPORTS VIEW]For Samsung Lions, the pressure's on

Over in North America, baseball fans are wondering which Cinderella team, the Anaheim Angels or the San Francisco Giants, will win the fall classic.

Here, everybody is asking whether the Samsung Lions are going to grab the Korean Series for the first time. Well, at least those die-hard fans still in the stands.

In a sense, this is the year that Samsung must prove itself. It has never won the Series. The modest celebration the club staged Friday after it clinched the regular season pennant for the second straight year seems indicative of Samsung's determination to seize something rightfully its own after such a splendid season. If the Lions end up losing the Korean Series to either LG or Kia, which will play a five-game series to see who advances to the final, it would severely hurt Samsung's pride. And skipper Kim Eung-rong would again be denied his first championship with Samsung, after taking the Haitai (Kia) Tigers to nine championship titles.

Last year, Kim and his club lost in the Korean Series to the Doosan Bears. This year Doosan did a disappearing act, finishing fifth.

More is at stake for the Lions this time. In the 21-year history of Korean pro baseball only one team has taken the regular season pennant in consecutive years. That was the Haitai Tigers of 1996 and 1997, led by Kim. It would be nice to top that impressive achievement with a win in the Korean Series. In fact, for Samsung, packing the league's best offensive player, Lee Seung-yeob, who led all teams in home runs with 46 and runs batted in with 124, taking home anything less than the championship trophy is unthinkable.

Looking back, you can see that the team that rests up for the Korean Series while the other playoff contenders battle it out to survive is the odds-on favorite. Since 1989, when the current playoff system was implemented (and excluding 1999 and 2000, when the league had two divisions), 8 of the 11 teams that finished first in the regular season won it all.

Kim, given carte blanche this year from the front office to spend money on top talent, must feel the burden of high expectations even more. An interesting side event will be to watch how Kim's protege, his old first baseman for Haitai, Kim Sung-han, will do in the playoffs managing Kia.

Speaking of high expectations, Park Hang-su must be experiencing both disappointment and relief. The national soccer team coach was "relieved" of his position Friday, after failing to lead the team to a gold medal in the Asian Games. Poor Park -- his short tenure, three months, was no surprise. Filling in the shoes of a national hero like Gus Hiddink is akin to learning Sanskrit.

So who's next for this job fraught with perils? Any potential candidate knows that the post is secure only until the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Hiddink remains the popular choice to lead Korea in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Whoever takes this job will start with a loose guillotine over his head. Anybody really want to do that? Not likely. And if anybody is stupid enough to take it, I suspect it will be an involuntary decision.

To the next coach, I have only one thing to say: Be careful of that blade.

"Sports View" appears Thursdays and Saturdays in the JoongAng Daily.

by Brian Lee

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