New kids on the block hail from West Africa

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New kids on the block hail from West Africa

Before the World Cup draw put Togo in the same round-robin group as Korea, it was unlikely that most people here, soccer fans or not, could have located the country on a map.
For those following the World Cup, though, that has changed. And the people now with the keenest interest in the West African country are the coaches and players on Korea’s national team. With the quadrennial tournament just a month away, that interest is even more heightened.
Soccer fans now know that the team’s biggest threat is Emmanuel Sheyi Adebayor, its top scorer in the qualifying rounds with 11 goals in 12 matches. Togo’s offense begins and ends with Adebayor, a speedy striker in a basketball player’s body.
They also know that Korea’s key to advancing into the second round is a victory against Togo in both teams’ first match of the round-robin play.
Although they’re not dismissing the Togolese out of hand, Togo is considered less formidable than Switzerland or France, the other two squads in Korea’s group. To reach the round of 16, Korea will probably have to accumulate at least four points in round-robin play (three points for a win and one for a tie). Those three points, if the national squad can knock off Togo, would go a long way toward finishing first or second in the group.
A quick glance at a statistic from the 2002 World Cup illustrates the momentum from a victory in a team’s first match. Four years ago, Turkey was the only team that lost its first game and still advanced to the round of 16.
What must Korea do to get that important win?
Adebayor is the key, although Togo’s forward Adekambi Olufade and midfielder Junior Senaya are also threats. The Korean defenders’ goal should be to contain Adebayor and essentially dare the others to beat them.
Togo’s defense is somewhat suspect, but the new national team head coach, Otto Pfister, is expected to bring solid defenders who hold dual French and Togolese citizenship and are thus eligible to play for Togo. They include Kodjo Afanou, a starting defender for the second-best French club Bordeaux, and Valerien Ismael, a starter with the top German team Bayern Munich. Their presence could change the complexion of Togo’s defense.
But it’s unlikely that when the World Cup gets underway, the new additions will have had enough time to mesh completely with the other players, thus giving Korean players a lack of cohesion to exploit.


by Yoo Jee-ho

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