The difference is expectationsJust look around and it is easy to see that Korea’s World Cup squad is carrying the nation on its shoulders. Cab drivers are ready to offer their analyses, bar hostesses and bankers are wearing the red T-shirts and political leaders have offered their endorsements. Pop singers here have composed cheering songs and fans are trying to learn the official cheer dance.
What’s different this year is the expectations. Until the 2002 World Cup, South Korea had never won a game in the tournament.
The country’s unexpected fourth-place finish has created greater hopes this year. The players who used the previous World Cup as a springboard to play in foreign leagues, such as the English Premier League, have also changed. Park Ji-sung, who in 2002 was a shy, pimple-peppered boy of 21, is now the center of attention. Back then, he uttered answers to reporters from the corners of his mouth, saying that he would try to have a good game.
Park, who plays for Manchester United, stands now at the forefront of confidence. “I don’t think there is anything that we need to improve,” Park boldly declared in a recent interview with the press. With 10 players having World Cup experience and a handful of players playing in Europe, that confidence may be well-deserved.
While the team’s confidence took a deep dive after a 3-1 loss to Ghana in the team’s last exhibition game prior to the World Cup, there are still many who think the team is destined to go far.
I only have to add this. I think the team will be on the border of getting to the round of 16. If South Korea gets there, we should congratulate ourselves. Anything beyond that is a bonus.
Experts say South Korea has a better midfield but a weaker defense this time. The team is out to prove that the last World Cup was no fluke and that it can play without home-ground advantage. If the team advances to the next stage, South Korea deserves respect on the international stage. The team’s performance will also raise the perception of Asian football, which has always been considered a notch below top-level play.
If the team does not make the round of 16, it will not only be a blow to the confidence of the South Korean players who have just started to make their names internationally, but even the average Korean may wonder how much favoritism the team got in 2002.
by Brian Lee
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