With their blend of swift and precise passing combined with spectacular finishing, Korea Republic have emerged as one of the surprise packages from the first two matchdays at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament 2012.
Both in their goalless draw with Mexico on the opening day and subsequent 2-1 victory over Switzerland, the lively Asians threatened to overrun their opponents at times. For midfield dynamo Ki Sungyueng of Celtic and Arsenal striker Park Chuyoung, the promising early-tournament form is further evidence of a rapid rise in the nation’s footballing fortunes.
Newly instilled confidence
“It's getting tighter and tighter at the top of the world game," a confident but unassuming Ki told FIFA.com. “I can't yet say where we'll end up here in London 2012, but I do believe we're contenders for the quarters or semi-finals," he continued, as if to underline an obvious rise in the expectations and ambitions harboured by the men from the south of Korea.
The 23-year-old, who has now completed two full seasons in Glasgow, neatly embodies the new success-oriented philosophy of South Korean football. In the Olympic team, the tall midfielder, who has 38 senior caps to his name, pulls the strings in central defensive midfield, catching the eye with his composure on the ball, passing accuracy and bite in the tackle. Ki's body language exudes the calm confidence of a true leader. However, he believes in iron discipline and places the team before the individual, both on and off the field. These are the attributes typical of the new generation of Taeguk Warrios.
“There's actually been no change in our mentality, but we now have a blend of Korean and European footballing cultures, which is very good for us," continued Sungyueng, a forceful personality in midfield for Scottish champions Celtic. His role model is Steven Gerrard, and his long-striding, easy movement is in many ways reminiscent of the Liverpool legend. “The important thing is that more and more of us are playing in Europe, and that's making us stronger. Ten years ago, we were still a small footballing nation, but now we compete at the major tournaments. It would be a dream if we could make an even bigger name for ourselves here with a medal."
The current Korea Republic team visibly enjoy their football, and have already laid the foundations for a memorable campaign in London. The manner of their goals against the Swiss spoke volumes. The first was a spectacular diving header from Park, and the second a glorious Kim Bokyung volley. “The secret of our success is the excellent structure in the team. That's our biggest strength and it's making us hungry for success. We try and step up a gear in every match," the 27-year-old Park exclusively revealed to FIFA.com. The Arsenal man is generally regarded as the most creative influence in the hard-working Korean side.
Driven by passion
Park and his team-mates now have four points from their two matches, and only trail Group B leaders Mexico on goal difference. The Koreans face Gabon at Wembley on Wednesday requiring a draw to be sure of progressing. However, fans who have been watching coach Hong Myungbo’s side at the tournament already know they will go all out for victory and the chance of topping the group. The plan is to tackle the Africans with the same élan and enthusiasm that put paid to the Swiss.
“We have the quality to impose our wonderful passing game on a match," said Ki . "At the end of the day, that's our style now. We don't just want to hit it long and hope. We're set up for a fast, short passing game, we like to get it forward and create chances. That's what we really enjoy. We value passion and commitment very highly. We might not be the biggest team on paper, but we're still physically and technically strong, and we run hard. It all gives us real flexibility."
And that sounds like a laying down of the gauntlet to the rest of the medal contenders.