Korea Republic may be Asia’s most successful side and its most frequent visitors to the FIFA World Cup™, but their position on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking has not been as consistent as their status on the continent.
Since the global ladder’s inception in 1992, the South Koreans have experienced repeated ups and downs. They held 33rd place in 1995 on the back of their trip to USA 1994, fell to 62nd in March 1996, rose to 17th – their best-ever position – in the year of France 1998, but were back down in 52nd in January 2000.
The Taeguk Warriors’ unforeseen run to the semi-finals at Korea/Japan 2002 helped them jump back into top 20, although their early exit from Germany 2006 sent them plummeting to 56th. Thereafter, Korea Republic flitted inside and outside the top 50, but they found themselves back on the positive side of that barrier on the latest Ranking table, a 2-0 win over Côte d’Ivoire in London helping them climb four places to 49th.
Korea Republic underwent a series of experiments over the course of qualifying for South Africa 2010. Huh gave first caps to no fewer than seven players in his first game in charge, against Chile in January 2008, and has successfully transformed the ageing rearguard into a younger one. Cho Yong-Hyung and Kwak Tae-Hwi have established themselves in the national team, with Lee Jung-Soo and Kang Min-Soo providing more options in the central defence.
Celtic’s Ki Sung-Yueng and Lee Chung-Yong of Bolton Wanderers led the generation shift in the middle of the park, while Kim Jung-Woo emerged as the new playmaker. And after newly-appointed captain Park Ji-Sung had led his country to a crucial 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia and a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Iran at the end of the year, Korea Republic rose into 42nd place.
Although the Taeguk Warriors claimed their place in South Africa with two games remaining in the qualifiers, the problem in front of goal has haunted Huh for the past two years. With the world finals just two months away, Huh has been trying to find the right man to partner his first choice striker Park Chu-Young.
Livewire forward Lee Keun-Ho was the revelation of the qualifying campaign, although Huh has not ruled out the return of veterans Ahn Jung-Hwan and Lee Chun-Soo. But if Lee Dong-Gook, the K-League’s leading marksman last season, continues to impress as he did in a 2-0 friendly win over Côte d’Ivoire on 3 March, Korea Republic will be at full strength in the build-up to South Africa 2010.
The South Koreans are to take on Ecuador and Japan in May, before travelling to Austria for the final tune-up match against Spain, who are top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, on 3 June.