INCHEON, South Korea, AFP
South Korea, the land of the morning calm, will be in a state of nervous anticipation on today’s evening as their World Cup heroes battle Portugal for a spot in the second round.
The match will bring the nation to a virtual standstill and coach Guus Hiddink has promised that his side will not be overawed by the Luis Figo-led Portuguese, the overwhelming Group D favorites.
Korea, whose 2-0 win over Poland was their first in six World Cup campaigns, and the United States head the group on four points with Portugal, beaten by the US in their opener, a point behind.
The Portuguese need a win to make sure of a last 16 place.
The Koreans know that a draw will be good enough to fulfill their dream of making the second round but the ‘Hiddink Way’, a phrase now firmly set in the Korean language, does not include defensive tactics.
“We have respect (for Portugal) but we are not afraid (of the big teams) any more,” said Hiddink, who has transformed a ‘chaotic’ team into a confident one over the past four months.
“I think it is one of the biggest developments with this Korean team in the last few months that we have respect but are not afraid to challenge even the big names.”
The current coach won’t make the mistake of his predecessor, Cha Bum-Kun, who chose to man mark the Holland side led by Hiddink at France ‘98. Cha put men on Edgar Davids, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert and the Koreans were run ragged, eventually going down 5-0.
“I will not be man marking the likes of Figo or Rui Costa,” confirmed Hiddink. “You cannot mark world class players with two or three players. I think we have the players who can defend when required.”
Korea squandered numerous chances against the United States and Hiddink knows that his strikers will have to be sharper against Portugal.
He is likely to start with veteran Hwang Sun-Hong — who will win his 100th cap — and Anderlect hit man Seol Ki-Hyeon up front and keep super-sub Ahn Jung Hwan, who headed the equalizer against the United States, in reserve.
The image of Hwang lying on the ground with blood pouring from a head wound during the Unites States match has quickly come to symbolize the fighting spirit of the Korean team. Hwang, who will retire from international football after the World Cup, needed five stitches in the cut but is fit to play against Portugal.
“I will give my all for the team and my country,” said Hwang, whose goal against Poland was his 50th for Korea. “I do not want this to be my last game for Korea, I want the team to go to the second round.”
Park Ji-Sung, injured against the United States, is expected to miss the game but speedy left-sided midfielder Lee Young-Pyo is fit and will likely be in the starting line-up.
Lee starred against Scotland, England and France in pre-World Cup matches and provides another attacking option for Hiddink.
Portugal coach Antonio Oliveira, who had to lift the side after their terrible defensive display in the 3-2 loss to the United States, does not have any injury worries and may recall Liverpool’s Abel Xavier to strengthen the right side of defense.
The Portuguese know all about Korea’s speed and will try and play the game at their tempo.
“If we keep possession and control the match, I think that will be very important to counter the Koreans’ speed,” said defender Rui Jorge. “It is important that we are not caught out by counter attacks.”
The Red Devils, Korea’s fanatical fans, will turn the Incheon stadium into a sea of red and a cauldron of noise for the encounter and Jorge admitted that it would be like playing against ‘an additional half player.’
“Korea will have an additional half player because of the home support but we are all experienced players and are used to playing in those situations,” he said.