Korea looks to extend win streak versus China

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Korea looks to extend win streak versus China

TOKYO, Japan - After a dominating win over Hong Kong yesterday night, the Korean national team is focusing in on its next opponent: China.

The two teams displayed different characteristics in their last games. Korea managed to successfully parlay their set piece plays into goals against Hong Kong, and their offense finally seemed to come to life. China, on the other hand, played to a scoreless draw against Japan in their tourney-opening match.

Chinese national football team manager Gao Hongbo attended Korea’s match against Hong Kong, hoping to gain some insight into his next opponent. Gao left the stadium after watching Korea score four goals in the first half, returning to his hotel room to prepare for the upcoming game.

“Korea is a tougher opponent than the Japanese. We at least had a size advantage against the Japanese. We need to approach the match with a different mind-set,” Gao told the media at the hotel.

The biggest obstacle for the Chinese national team might have less to do with game plans and preparation than with player mentality.

China has not defeated Korea in football since 1978. In fact, Chinese media have come to describe the ordeal as “konghanzheng,” roughly translated as “Korean phobia.” As Gao explained, his team will have to focus on improving its midfield play in order to defeat Korea.

“The psychological aspect of the match is also important. We need to forget about konghanzheng. We cannot overcome it merely by winning one or two games. Korean players have a psychological advantage over our players. It won’t be easy to change that,” Gao said.

The Korean squad, led by manager Huh Jung-moo, is feeling confident after a convincing win over Hong Kong in its first match of the tourney. Although Hong Kong is ranked 137th in the FIFA world rankings, Korea managed to take advantage of their set piece opportunities. Set piece refers to the ensuing plays after free kicks, corner kicks or throw-ins. Korea has traditionally used set piece plays to its advantage against stronger opponents in past World Cups, and Huh is expecting much of the same at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Korea scored a total of 22 goals. Eight of them, or 36.3 percent, came on set piece plays. In the past four World Cup tournaments, since the 1994 event in the U.S., Korea scored 32 percent of their goals on set pieces. The trend is not limited to the Korean squad. According to the English Football Association, an average of 46 percent of the goals in the English Premier League come from set piece plays.

“It was good to see our players threaten our opponents on set piece plays,” said Huh. “We are putting our players through repetitive training to emphasize their positives but we still have a lot of areas to work on.”

Korea will also have to focus on defending against set pieces. Since taking the managerial role of the team in January 2008, Huh’s team has allowed 23 goals in 32 games, with five of those coming in set piece situations - the most of any goals-allowed categories.

By Choi Won-chang, Jang Chi-hyeok [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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