Japan match criticized as too close to World Cup

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Japan match criticized as too close to World Cup

With the 2010 South Africa World Cup looming just ahead, the Korean Football Association is drawing criticism for booking a friendly match with its archrival Japan for May 24 in Tokyo.

It is supposed to be one of several tune-up matches leading up to the World Cup. Many critics, including those in football circles, say the match can work against the national team’s goals rather than be of help as the team prepares for the big event in June.

“A match between Korea and Japan is not like any other game,” said Kim Ho, who managed the 1994 U.S.A. World Cup.

“With the World Cup looming, there is no clear reason and nothing to be gained from the match ... What will really help the effort to host a World Cup in Korea is not a cooperative effort with Japan but a strong showing in South Africa.”

National team manager Huh Jung-moo and his coaching staff seem displeased but have been tight-lipped about their thoughts on the scheduling.

The final group of friendly matches is scheduled for the purpose of helping the national team prepare for the big stage. Korea hosts Ecuador on May 16 at the Seoul World Cup Stadium in what is its last match on home soil before the World Cup. The match was booked to prepare the national team for Argentina. Then there is the June 4 match against Spain in Innsbruck, Austria. The reasoning behind the match is to have the team play a top-tiered team to help players gain confidence.

Japan is a top-ranked Asian team but Korea does not face an Asian team at the World Cup. That’s the main reasons some say the match has no bearing on the national team’s future plans. Another concern is possibility of injuries. Korea won the match between the two countries, 3-1, at the East Asian Football Championships. At the time, Japanese manager Takeshi Okada drew heavy criticism from the Japanese media. Japan will have a lot to prove in the May 24 match and in such a case, injuries might result.

A similar case took place leading up to the 1998 France World Cup. Korea lost to Japan 2-1 at the Dynasty Cup on March 1, 1998. Heavy criticism ensued.

“We were supposed to go on a scouting trip to Europe to evaluate the Dutch national team in a friendly match. However, our hands were tied due to preparations for the April 1 match against Japan,” said Cha Bum-kun, the manager at the time.

Korea did manage to win the second match 2-1 but the 1998 World Cup was a big failure. Korea had also played China in a friendly match ahead of that tournament, and while the match drew a lot of interest and viewership, the national team lost its star forward Hwang Sun-hong to injury. Hwang ended up watching the 1998 World Cup from the bench.

Japan will host Korea on May 24 and the two team will play each other again in Seoul in October. The two-game series is expected to draw much revenue for the KFA. “We looked to reviving the annual home and away series with Japan last year but the deal fell through. We ended up reaching an agreement this year,” a KFA official said.

By Jang Chi-hyeok [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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