Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - Page 19 News List

WORLD CUP: South Korea need spirit of 2002 against Belgium

AFP, SAO PAULO, Brazil

Belgium’s Divock Origi, right, celebrates scoring against Russia with teammate Kevin Mirallas in their FIFA World Cup Group H match in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Struggling South Korea will need to rediscover the magical spirit of 2002 as they fight to rescue their dismal World Cup campaign against unbeaten Belgium today.

After drawing with Russia and losing 4-2 to Algeria, Group H’s bottom side need to win big against already-qualified Belgium if they are to stay in the tournament.

Logic decrees South Korea will soon be following Japan home as their attack has been largely toothless so far, coupled with severe problems in defense, but coach Hong Myung-bo can draw at least on his experiences at the 2002 tournament, when he was part of the team that shocked the world by reaching the semi-finals.

That year, the unquenchable desire of Guus Hiddink’s team and some favorable refereeing decisions helped the Taeguk Warriors upset Portugal, Italy and Spain.

This time around, things have been different.

The 1-1 draw with Russia owed much to Igor Afinkeev’s goalkeeping howler and South Korea were then taken apart by Algeria.

“Now we have to turn the page,” Hong said after the Algeria defeat. “We must prepare better for the next game, it’s our only option.”

On-loan Arsenal striker Park Chu-young remains goalless and Hong had some choice words for his defense after they conceded three in the first half against Algeria.

In South Korea’s favor is that Belgium, who are top of the table with maximum points, are expected to rest some of their first-choice players.

Centerback Thomas Vermaelen looks set to miss out with a hamstring strain, but coach Marc Wilmots may give more game time to Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, who is yet to hit top form.

“I haven’t played well yet at this World Cup, but I’ve made a difference and that’s what the coach has asked of me,” Hazard said this week. “I understand that people expect a lot of me and I know I can do better.”

Although Belgium have a spine of top-level stars in Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku, it is a new face who has been making the headlines. Divock Origi, 19, from Hazard’s former club LOSC Lille Metropole, is the latest headline-maker off the production line with two sparkling substitute appearances, including the winner against Russia.

“It hasn’t sunk in what’s happening to me. Playing at a World Cup, scoring at the Maracana in front of my parents and my sister. It’s crazy,” the teenager said.

His emergence only intensifies the troubles of Hong, who would have hoped to have been in a slightly better position come the final group game, but he will hope his preparations finally come right and that South Korea can miraculously extend their campaign.

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