One of the few Asian sides to make it into the later stages of a World Cup tournament were hosts South Korea in 2002 when they finished third.
This tournament has started off well for the Asian contingent with South Korea beating Greece 2-0 and Japan defeating Cameroon 1-0 in today’s clash.
Both nations must be buoyed by their opening victories.
South Korea’s performance against the Greeks was vibrant and fresh. They were really impressive against a poor Greece side.
However poor the Greek’s were the Korean’s still had enough talent to take advantage of their poor performance. They could have beaten Greece by more than the two goal score line and were worthy winners.
The improvement in the technique of the Asian players in recent years has been dramatic. Some of this improvement has been down to the influence of their players playing in major leagues around the world. In Korea’s case their players have also had the influence of Dutch head coaches Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat.
The two coaches brought a more technical style of coaching and their hard work has started to pay off in this year’s tournament. The rise in technical ability has led to the players becoming more confident and they don’t have the same inferiority complex they have had in previous tournaments.
Something the Asian teams were renowned for in the past was being slightly lightweight. Yet when I saw South Korea play against the Greeks I thought they looked physically stronger than previous years. They never let Greece bully them and looked solid.
Both South Korea and Japan have quality players in their squad. For South Korea Manchester United’s Park-Ji Sung and Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong are two players who perform week in week out in the Premier League and combine good technical ability with fantastic work rate.
Japan’s rising star is midfield playmaker Keisuke Honda. The highly rated CSKA Moscow star scored the winner against Cameroon in their first World Cup match and has been compared to one of Japan’s most famous players Hidetoshi Nakata by his nations media.
That is high praise indeed. He impressed immensely in CSKA’s Champions League campaign and much is expected of him. He is also still fairly young, the goal against Cameroon came just a day after his 24th birthday.
The fitness of the two nations is amazing. Footballers have to be super fit but these two sides players seem to be on another level. Nobody could ever question their fitness or their work rate. Every single player gives his all for his country.
Both nations now have a superb chance of qualifying for the knockout stages. Japan probably faces the harder task with both Denmark and Holland in their group but it’s not beyond them to get a result against either, especially against a Denmark side who were beaten by the Dutch in their opening match.
South Korea has Nigeria and Argentina still to come in group B. A victory in their last match against Nigeria would mean that they wouldn’t need anything from their second game against the group favourites Argentina. Things are looking good for the Korean’s.
The North Korean’s haven’t yet started their World Cup campaign but are in the group of death alongside Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal. They are likely to be outclassed by their more glamorous opponents. However like their fellow Asian nations I doubt they will give up easily and will give everything for their nations cause.
Even if North Korea does struggle then the Asia flag will be carried by their neighbours and Japan. For Asian football two out three qualifiers for the knockout stage isn’t bad. (I don’t count Australia!). It would prove major progress in the development of the game on the continent. Good luck South Korea you have just won yourself another English fan.