Tue, Jul 24, 2007 - Page 18 News List

S Koreans fighting fatigue

AFP, KUALA LUMPUR

South Korea's Kim Jung-woo, right, celebrates after scoring a goal in a penalty shootout against Iran during the Asian Football Cup quarter-final at Bukit Jalil stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

South Korea's elation at staying alive in the Asian Cup has been tempered by only two days' recovery from their draining two-hour win over Iran on penalties.

The Koreans, bidding for their first tournament success since 1960, have to regroup for tomorrow's semi-final with Iraq and a crack at Sunday's final in Jakarta.

The big task for Dutch coach Pim Verbeek is to get his players mentally and physically refreshed for the looming battle with a side who count Australia among their tournament scalps so far.

"I'm more worried by the fact that we have one day less rest and that we played 120 minutes against Iran," Verbeek said. "We only have a couple of days' rest to bring the players physically and mentally back, and there will be no time for training sessions."

"We have played Iraq recently and although it was only a friendly, we scored three goals against them. But that's history and now it's a new game and a new challenge," he said.

Verbeek, who was the assistant coach under Guus Hiddink when the Koreans stormed to the last four of the World Cup five years ago, demanded his players not look too far ahead in the tournament.

"The players have done well but we have still won nothing yet," Verbeek said. "We have reached the semi-final but that is still nothing. We have to go to the final and then try to win the Cup."

South Korea slogged it out with three-time champions Iran in the rain and prevailed on penalties 4-2 in the shoot-out on Sunday after both teams had failed to find the net in 120 minutes' soccer.

Iraq no doubt enjoyed the two teams knocking each other around in the extended contest at the Bukit Jalil stadiu, a day after they accounted for Vietnam 2-0 in their Bangkok quarter-final.

Verbeek was gratified by the mental toughness and physical strength of his players to tough it out with the hardened Iranians in the winner-take-all battle.

"I'm very proud of my team. Our selection worked very hard against a strong opponent for 120 minutes to get the result," he said.

"I was there with the Korean team at the last two World Cups and I have never seen a Korean team play without vitality and without spirit. That's one of the great qualities of Korean football and that why it's very good to be coaching Korean players, especially the young players that we have here," Verbeek said.

"Organization-wise we did very well defensively and I am just very glad to be going to the semi-final," he said.

Korea's hero was 34-year-old goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae, who saved the efforts from Mehdi Mahdavikia and Rassoul Khatibi in the shoot-out to claim victory.

"I have to forget about this great win and prepare for our next game against Iraq," said Lee, who was a vital part of their run to the semis at the World Cup in 2002.

"All our players are desperate to go to Jakarta to win the Asian Cup, so we will be ready for Iraq," he said.

This story has been viewed 1697 times.
TOP top