National team draws well for CupThe national football team seems pleased with the World Cup draw and is sounding confident about its chances to advance to the round of 16 for only the second time since the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. Coach Huh Jung-moo and his men have been grouped with Argentina, Greece and Nigeria for the 2010 World Cup to be held in South Africa.
“There are no easy groups at the World Cup. Our goal is to reach at least the round of 16 in South Africa next year, and we will be well prepared to do that,” Huh said early Saturday to the media. “In order to make it to the round of 16, we need a win and two ties or two wins and a loss and I cannot say for sure how we’ll measure up to the other teams in the group. We will have to analyze and prepare thoroughly. As one of the games will take place at a high altitude, we will need to get accustomed to that kind of environment by training overseas.”
Korea will be competing in its seventh consecutive World Cup but this is the first time the national team has been placed in a group without two European teams.
Ranked 21st in the world, Nigeria is considered by many to be the dark horse of the group. Nigeria boasts talented players and plenty of speed but lacks organization and teamwork. Korea’s record against the Super Eagles consists of two wins and one loss.
Greece is ranked 12th in the world and has a strong defensive team. Greece’s lone appearance at the World Cup was in 1994 when they failed to advance out of the first round but went on an impressive run to win the Euro 2004. Having finished behind Switzerland in the World Cup qualifiers, Greece defeated Ukraine in the qualifying playoff round to earn a spot in South Africa. Against Greece, Korea has the lead with one win and one draw.
The toughest match for Korea is likely to be the one against Argentina at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg on June 17. Ranked eighth in the world, the traditionally strong South American club did not have the smoothest qualifying round, finishing fourth in its region, and in the process, its manager and former star Diego Maradona came under intense scrutiny. But with a world-class lineup led by Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Argentina is still the clear favorite of the group. Korea has an all-time record of one tie and three losses against Argentina.
Aside from having to face Argentina, the Korean team will have the additional challenge of competing at Soccer City stadium, also referred to as FNS Stadium, in the Soweto area of Johannesburg. The stadium, which underwent a major upgrade starting last year that was completed in October of this year, is already known as the toughest venue in the 2010 World Cup. In addition to being the largest venue in Africa with a capacity of 94,700, it is located 1,694 meters above sea level. Playing at such a high altitude can be tough on a player’s stamina due to low oxygen levels.
“We were expecting to play at least a game or two at high altitude. We will need to make adjustments by setting up our base camp in a high altitude area,” stated Huh.
Huh and his team will gather at the National Training Center in Paju, Gyeonggi, on Jan. 4 and the team will begin training overseas on Jan. 6 in Rustenburg, South Africa. Located 1,153 meters above sea level, it is an ideal place for the team to begin preparing for its World Cup run.
By Jason Kim [email@example.com]
England soccer player David Beckham, South African actress Charlize Theron and South Africa rugby player John Smit watch as FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke announces the countries drawn into Group B for the 2010 World Cup, in Cape Town on Dec. 4. The monthlong tournament begins on June 11 next year in South Africa. [REUTERS]