Seoul, Nov 30 (DPA) Having qualified for their seventh successive World Cup finals, South Koreans are now hoping that they will be able to come close to the success they achieved in 2002, when – as hosts – they reached the semi-finals.
After first appearing on the World Cup stage in 1954, they had to wait almost five decades to become an Asian powerhouse.
Waiting for success was made even worse as they had to watch from the sidelines in 1966 as northern rivals North Korea stunned the world by advancing to the quarter-finals.
Under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink at the 2002 World Cup, the Koreans overcame challenges from the likes of Italy, Portugal and Spain to storm through to the semi-finals, where Germany ended their race with a 1-0 victory.
Seven years later the country again eagerly awaits the World Cup finals.
But if the fourth place finish in 2002 was something of a miracle, the Asians are now confident of a spot in the quarter-finals in South Africa.
In 2002 Hiddink had mainly home-based players available for the Taekwon Warriors.
Today, Korean coach Huh Jung Moo has a globalized squad to chose from and there are a number of European-based players like Manchester United winger Park Ji Sung, Bolton Wanderers midfielder Lee Chung Yong and Monaco striker Park Chu Young.
South Korea finished top of their qualifying group and remained undefeated in 26 games, notching up 14 victories in the process.
However, all the games were against Asian teams and South Korea is looking further afield for opponents.
Korean confidence rose after the November 14 match against Denmark that ended in a scoreless draw. To draw against the 27-ranked Danish team was viewed as a good result by the South Koreans, who are ranked 48th.
Defeat had to come sooner or later and the 27-match unbeaten streak was broken by the 20-ranked Serbian team with a 1-0 win in a friendly a few days after the game against Denmark.
Nevertheless, South Koreans are confident that they have emerged from their slump which they suffered after the 2002 glory.
Even though the association stuck to Dutch coaches, none of them could follow in Hiddink’s footsteps, as Jo Bonfrere and Dick Advocaat failed to bring success.
The 2007 Asian Cup saw the team struggle in the competition, only ensuring a progress out of the group stages with the last game. A defeat to Iraq in the semi-finals heralded the beginning of the end for coach Pim Verbeek, who left soon afterwards.
Officials then decided to turn to a local coach and employed Huh, who empowered his team with collective team spirit, an aggressive lineup and physical power.
A short set-back, which saw the team play to a 1-1 draw against North Korea, was followed by three wins against the United Arab Emirates (twice) and Saudi Arabia, which was good enough to see them comfortably through.
Internationally, Huh Jung Moo is remembered as a star defensive-midfielder during his three-year stint with PSV Eindhoven, scoring 15 goals in his 77 matches.
He started coaching in 1991 and has not looked back, as he has managed to introduce youngsters like Lee Young Pyo and Park Ji-Sung into his teams.
Huh, who is often said to possess a very high tactical level because he is a master-billiard player, has not shied away from dropping star players if they do not perform for him.
Any Asian player, who plies his trade for the most popular club on the continent, is bound to achieve cult-like status in South Korea. And that is exactly what 28-year-old Park Ji Sung has managed to achieve.
Coached to prominence during the 2002 World Cup under Hiddink, Park was rewarded with a move to United, where he has impressed, paving the way for other Koreans like 21-year-old Lee Chung Yong, who now plays for Bolton in the Premier League.
Nickname(s): Taegeuk Jeonsa (Taegeuk Warriors), Tigers of Asia, Reds Devils
FIFA affiliation: 1948
Highest FIFA ranking: 17 – December 1998
Lowest FIFA ranking: 56 – February 1996
Previous World Cup appearances: 7 (1954, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006)
Best World Cup performance: Fourth Place (2002)
Date qualified for finals: June 6, 2009