So far, so good for the Taegeuk Warriors
Korea’s quest for its first Asian Cup title in 51 years got off to a good start at Al-Gharafa Stadium in Doha, Qatar, when the Taegeuk Warriors snuck by 93rd-ranked Bahrain by one goal in their 2011 Asian Cup opening match early yesterday.
It was the first time Korea won its first match at the Asian Cup since the 1988 tournament - also in Qatar - when Korea finished second to Saudi Arabia.
Korea relied on the heroics of 21-year-old Koo Ja-cheol to win 2-1. Koo, filling the shoes of injured Park Chu-young, scored the opening goal in the 39th minute when his shot deflected off opposing defender Abdulla Marzooqi and into the net.
Koo would add what would prove to be the winning goal in the 51st minute when he connected on a rebound of a Cha Du-ri shot.
“Ja-cheol has the skill set and a strong understanding of the game,” said Cho Kwang-rae, the national team manager. “He’s the type of player who can play well in whatever position he is slotted in.”
“We played well enough to win today,” said Cho. “With the opposing team focused on playing a defensive game, we responded by attacking up the wings on short passes. This is merely the start.
“We need to start focusing on Australia rather than get complacent over our win. We will look to secure a place in the quarterfinals with a strong outing in our next game. We’ve analyzed and prepared for Australia well so I’m confident our players will secure a place in the quarterfinals in our next game.”
The game played out just as Cho planned.
The manager focused on an up-tempo style of play and ordered his players to utilize the right and left wings to penetrate the opposing team’s defense.
“We had a tendency to underperform against Middle Eastern teams in the past. I told my players to play them aggressively from the opening whistle,” said Cho. “I told them to pressure our opponents in the midfield and to be swift on the counterattack, and not to hesitate to shoot within range.”
Said Bahrain’s manager, Salman Sharida: “Korea outplayed us in the midfield and looked well-prepared for the game.
“Korea is a team that has performed well at the World Cup. On the other hand, we merely had two months to prepare for the game. Advancing to the quarterfinals will become tougher, but we still have two more games to play.”
Korea will face Australia, its toughest Asian Cup group-stage opponent, on Friday at 10:15 p.m. Australia defeated India, 4-0, at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, yesterday.
By Kim Jong-ryok, Jason Kim [firstname.lastname@example.org]