Nat’l team gets ready for World Cup

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Nat’l team gets ready for World Cup

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The national football team trains for the friendly game against Ivory Coast at the Bank of England Sports Center in London yesterday. [JoongAng Ilbo]

The 2010 World Cup is fast approaching, with 100 days remaining until the opening match. The national football team will start its final stretch of friendly matches in preparation for one of the world’s biggest sporting events by playing Ivory Coast in London tonight at 11:30, Korean time.

Korea’s opposition is a top African team and it should give manager Huh Jung-moo and his coaching staff a good indication of how his team stacks up against world-class players.

Korea’s roster will be at full strength for the first time since the 1-0 loss to Serbia in London last November. Park Ji-sung (Manchester United), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton), Ki Sung-yeung (Celtic), Cha Du-ri (FC Freiburg) and other overseas-based players have been included in the roster. Forward Park Chu-young (AS Monaco) could not make the trip to London due to a hamstring injury.

“Up until now, our team has played many matches on our home field. They need to test themselves on unfavorable turf,” said Huh.

“When competing abroad in past World Cups, our players failed to live up to their full capabilities. I will be looking to see which players can display their full talent in unfamiliar surroundings.”

Park Ji-sung, the team’s captain, agreed. “We need to play against a talented team to find out what areas we need to improve. If we play well, it will be a confidence-booster for our younger players,” he said.

Ranked 22nd in the world by the International Federation of Football, known as FIFA, Ivory Coast is far ahead of Korea’s 49th place. Despite losing in the quarterfinals to Algeria 3-2 at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, Les Elephants boast a lineup of explosive players with plenty of experience in Europe’s top leagues.

Leading the squad is forward Didier Drogba, who has 19 goals in 23 appearances for Chelsea this season. Other notable names include Salomon Kalou of Chelsea, Yaya Toure of Barcelona, Didier Zokora of Sevilla, Kolo Toure of Manchester City and Emmanuel Eboure of Arsenal.

In addition, the Associated Press reported yesterday that Guus Hiddink, who has signed on to manage Turkey starting in August, will manage Ivory Coast in the World Cup, upgrading the team’s chances of going the distance in South Africa this June.

Like Korea’s World Cup group opponents Nigeria, Ivory Coast boasts a potent offense with plenty of speed at all key positions. Korea will have to focus on managing the match well and sealing the opposing offense.

“Ivory Coast has a tendency to lose focus toward the late phases of matches. If we defend well in the first half, we’ll have a chance to attack during the second half,” said Huh.

The biggest area of concern for Huh is the defense. After showing a lack of cohesion in the East Asian Football Championships last month, Huh will rely on veterans Cha and Lee Young-pyo along with Oh Beom-seok, Lee Jung-soo and Cho Yong-hyung.

“If we prepare well and give our opponents a difficult time, we have a good shot,” said Cha.

Korea’s next friendly match will take place against Ecuador on May 16.


By Jang Chi-hyeok, Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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월드컵 16강 ‘유럽파 + 쾌속세대’가 해낸다



세계인의 축구 축제 2010 남아공 월드컵(6월 12일∼7월 11일)이 꼭 100일 앞으로 다가왔다. 지난 한 달 대한민국을 환호와 흥분의 도가니로 몰아넣었던 밴쿠버 겨울올림픽의 여운이 가시기도 전에 또 다른 수퍼 스포츠 이벤트가 우리를 기다리고 있다. 3일 오후 11시30분(한국시간) 허정무 감독이 이끄는 축구 대표팀이 영국 런던 로프터스경기장에서 코트디부아르와 평가전을 치른다. 월드컵 개막 100일을 앞두고 최정예를 가동하는 첫 평가전. 상대는 아프리카 최강이다. 코트디부아르전을 보면 월드컵이 보인다.

◆최정예 출동=코트디부아르전은 5월 최종 엔트리를 확정하고 월드컵 체제가 출범하기 전에 열리는 마지막 평가전이다. 더 이상 시험은 없다. 이를 위해 박지성(맨유)·이청용(볼턴)·기성용(셀틱)·차두리(프라이부르크) 등 유럽파가 총출동했다. 허벅지 부상으로 재활 중인 박주영(모나코)만 빠졌다.

분위기는 좋다. 이청용은 지난달 28일(한국시간) 울버햄프턴과 경기에서 올 시즌 11번째 공격포인트를 기록했다. 주장 박지성은 1일 칼링컵 우승의 기쁨을 안고 대표팀에 합류했다.

낯선 잔디, 강한 상대, 그리고 시차와 피로까지. 여건은 불리하지만 오히려 월드컵 분위기를 내기엔 제격이다. 허 감독은 “지금까지 우리 선수들은 홈에서 편하게 경기를 했다. 불리한 상황에서 뛰어봐야 한다. 그동안 외국에서 열린 월드컵에서 제 실력을 발휘하지 못했다. 주눅 들지 않고 경기를 즐기면서 제 실력을 내는 선수가 누구인지 지켜보겠다”며 선수들을 자극했다.

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