He is probably the busiest man in Korean football as the year of the Golden Pig begins. Two years since taking charge of Korea Republic's U-17 team, coach Park Kyung-Hoon has been eagerly waiting for this year to come.
Park took his boys on a training camp to Brazil last November and shortly after coming back home, they embarked for extra sessions in the southern island of Jejudo, where they have been preparing for a four-nation tournament down under - also featuring hosts Australia, China, and Japan.
Another training camp in Europe and a series of friendly games with Spain and Belgium are scheduled in February, before China, Japan, and Korea DPR visit the country for another four-nation tournament in April. And two months before the finals, there will be a dress rehearsal for Korea 2007 in which eight of the qualified teams will take part.
"This is a very important tournament for us, not only for the U-17 team but also for Korean football," said Park. "We are playing an important role for the game in this country - if we do well, it will inspire young players and boost the popularity of football in Korea. Our U-17 players also have the potential to join the national team in several years so I think this year is really big for everyone."
He has spent past two years looking for new talent, although his charges have not been so successful in recent competitions, including the AFC U-17 Championship in September.
A defensive mission
"I know our defence needs to be more organised - and this was highlighted when we lost to Japan 3-2 in the Asian championship. Our players couldn't cope with the change of tactics and were vulnerable at the back. In the quarter-final against Tajikistan, we lost by an own goal, despite that fact that we had the majority of possession. We learned a lot of things through this experience and since then I have been focusing on improving the defence."
The camp in Brazil has helped them learn another good lesson, according to the 45-year old. "We played 14 games against youth teams of some big Brazilian clubs like Fluminense, Palmeiras, and Santos," he continued. "We scored ten times while conceding 40 goals. However, those goals have helped us. Our defenders have learnt from their errors and they are now communicating a lot better with one another."
Back on home soil, Park has no time to take a rest with his team preparing for a mini tournament: "We have been training since Thursday and will leave for Australia on Saturday," he said. "The first priority is getting the players physically ready for the competition and the next is organising the team. I heard the players of Australia and Japan are older than our players so this will be a good test for them."
The South Koreans do not have an impressive record at the U-17 level. Indeed, they have have only qualified twice for the finals in 1987 and 2003. So what is the coach expecting from this year's tournament?
"As Saudi Arabia won the title (in Scotland 1989), Asian teams have proved they can do it. China and Korea DPR also advanced to the quarter-finals at Peru 2005. Whenever I'm asked about our goal, I say we're going to win. Isn't that every team's goal? If we have the confidence in ourselves and do our best, good results will follow."
2007, the year of the Golden Pig, signifies good fortune in Korea Republic. Whether Park manages to bring home the bacon in September remains to be seen, but few can question his desire and meticulous preparations to achieve a small slice of success.