Dueling mind-sets as Korea, Japan clash
Korean manager Huh Jung-moo sees the friendly match as a tune-up match that can be a big help to his team as it prepares for the 2010 World Cup with the goal of reaching the round of 16. Japan’s manager, Takeshi Okada, has been talking about taking his team to the semifinals at the Cup and is looking to improve the morale of his club, which has been waning.
At the four-nation East Asian Football Championships held in Tokyo in February, Huh and Okada faced heavy criticism from fans and media alike. Huh’s team lost their second match to China, 0-3, on Feb. 10 at the Ajinomoto Stadium. It was Korea’s first ever loss to China since the two sides started playing each other in December of 1978. Okada also faced heavy criticism as his team struggled, despite expressing lofty goals to the public.
Okada’s team, on the other hand, lost 0-3 to a Serbian squad missing its top players last month in Osaka. The Japan Football Association is currently reviewing candidates to replace Okada at the end of the World Cup.
“Instead of feeling the pressure of playing in the Korea-Japan rivalry, I will tell my players to enjoy the intensity and atmosphere at the venue,” said Huh. “With the World Cup approaching, it will be a good experience for our players.”
In contrast, Okada has expressed a more direct and short-term goal for his team. And with the JFA preparing a ceremonial send-off for its national team after tonight’s match, it’s clear the association and Okada are after the same goal.
“We must avenge Korea. It’s a game we must win,” Okada has been quoted as saying to the Japanese press.
The buildup to tonight’s match in Japan has exceeded expectations. All 60,552 tickets have been sold out and tickets are being offered online for over triple the original price.
The key to the matchup will be Korea’s core group of Park Ji-sung of Manchester United, Park Chu-young of AS Monaco, Lee Chung-yong of Bolton and Ki Sung-yeung of Celtic FC. The four will play together for the first time since an Oct. 14, 2009 match against Senegal. The importance of the four is evident when looking at Korea’s record in the nine matches in which the four players have played together: six wins and three ties. Since Huh’s first game back as the national team manager in January 2008, the national team has scored a total of 59 goals in 37 games and 19 of those goals have been scored by the four players. Lee Chung-yong, who is coming off a successful rookie season with Bolton, leads the team with seven assists.
Park Chu-young, who was recovering from an injury to his right hamstring and missed the friendly match against Ecuador last week, is expected to be substituted into the match in the second half.
Leading Japan’s attack will be Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow, Nakamura Shinsuke of Yokohama and Yasuhito Endo.
Korea has been dominant over its rivals over the years and leads the all-time record between the two squads with 39 wins, 20 draws and 12 losses with 114 goals scored and 61 allowed.
By Kim Jong-ryok, Jason Kim [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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