South Korea’s Park Ji-sung and the north’s Hong Yong-cho
Any meeting between the two Koreas on the football pitch is special but the fact that it is a qualifier for the 2010 World Cup adds a good deal of hot pepper sauce to an already unique dish of that old Korean favourite bibimbap.
Temperatures were certainly rising recently as North Korea refused to play the Aegukka or fly the Taegukki at the massive Kim Sung-Il Stadium in Pyongyang. An offer of a rendition of Arirang and a joint flag didn’t fly at the Seoul offices of the Qiu Qiu Online Korean Football Association. The administrators opened FIFA’s rulebook and pointed to the relevant clause that requests all nations hosting World Cup qualifiers to provide both flags and anthems. The game’s global governing body decided to move the game to Shanghai.
FIFA didn’t punish Pyongyang for its refusal to play by the rules but playing in China certainly takes away advantages from the ‘hosts’. Instead of 100,000 partisan fans on the other side of the DMZ, the 35,000 capacity Hongkou Stadium in Shanghai is likely to be less than full. Additionally, South Korea’s Premier, K and J-League stars were not looking forward to playing on the artificial pitch in North Korea. The long grass of Shanghai is more welcome.
Less pleasing for the southern defenders will be another battle with Jong Tae-se, North Korea’s new weapon. Jong scored a fine goal when the two teams meet just six weeks ago during the East Asian championships in the Chinese city of Chongqing. The Japan-based forward has been the subject of much attention.
Captain Kim Nam-il faced Jong again last week in the J-league and has warned his team-mates that they will need to be on their toes.
“We saw in the East Asian Cup what he is capable of and we need to watch him until the very end of the game.”
Southern defender Kwak Tae-hwi was one of a number of players who was brushed aside by the powerful Jong as he scored his goal and the Chunnam Dragons star is determined to ensure that Jong does not repeat his success.
“This time I will stop him,” Kwak told reporters in Paju before leaving for China on Sunday. “Then I was too late with my tackle. When you face strong and fast attacking players you have to concentrate at all times and make quick decisions.”
Coach Huh Jung-moo has been making a few decisions of his own, naming no less than five players without any prior national team experience in the roster of 23.
Even with all the greenhorns available, the boss is likely to turn to tried and trusted stars such as Park Ji-sung. The Manchester United star has made the flight east, following three other English-based players- Lee Young-pyo of Tottenham, Fulham’s Seol Ki-hyeon and West Brom’s Kim Do-heon. All four have struggled to get some serious playing time recently and will be fresh, though perhaps not as sharp as Huh would like.
North Korea arrived in Shanghai on Monday and quickly sped away from the aiport on the bus. Coach Kim Jong-hun then led his players to the stadium for a behind-closed doors training session.
Both teams are looking to build on wins collected in the opening round of games in this the third and penultimate stage of qualification for the 2010 World Cup. The 20 remaining teams have been divided into five groups of four. The top two from each group progress to the final round. Four Asian nations will head to South Africa while a fifth will play-off with a representative from the Oceania region – likely to be New Zealand.
In the first game, South Korea thrashed Turkmenistan 4-0 in Seoul while the north won 1-0 in Jordan.
orth Korea is not a team that concedes many goals and until recently, South Korea was not one that scored too many. Three of the four meetings between the two in the past decade have ended all square and it is a result that would be satisfactory to both sides once again on Wednesday.