Defeat in any game of football is hard to take, so it was somewhat surprising to found Korea Republic coach Hong Myung-Bo in such an upbeat mood following his side's 3-2 exit at the hands of Ghana which denied his side a spot in the semi-finals. Yet Hong, who played in four senior FIFA World Cups™ himself, took plenty of positives from his side's run to the last eight
"We've decided to stay for a few days in Suez to give the players a chance to rest," he told FIFA.com. "They've been absolutely magnificent and I am very proud of them. They gave their all. They showed that have a very strong mentality as well as a great aptitude to learn whatever has been asked of them. They're also a team in every true sense of the word. We don't have any superstars or big egos. We work together - and I hope they continue to do this for many years to come.
"Obviously I was disappointed to go out, but we were beaten by a very good team in Ghana. If I had to criticise, I would say that there were aspects of our defensive organisation which needed to improve. I think they lost a bit of concentration and allowed them too much space on the flanks, which I'd warned them about prior to the game. At the other end, I thought that we needed to make more incisive passes into the box - at times it was just too easy for the Ghana defence to nullify the threat of our strikers."
The Taeguk Warriors enjoyed 3-0 victories over Paraguay and USA at the tournament and came from behind to level with Germany. Yet aside from the Ghana game, the only blotch on their copy book was a two defeat to Cameroon in their opening group game, a significance that was not lost on the coach.
"We certainly found African opposition difficult to deal with, but the team will learn from the experience, that's for sure," he said. "We're a quick team, both in possession and in terms of pace, but African teams combine that sharpness with power, which we found extremely difficult to come with. It's true that Ghana and Cameroon were gifted and talented opponents, but so were Germany, USA and Paraguay - and each team gave us a lesson in their own right."
The neutral supporters in Cairo and Suez were certainly impressed by the South Koreans never-say-die approach, as well as the constant sound of support from the team's fans who travelled across from east Asia whose constant shouts of ‘Korea' and renditions of ‘Ode to Joy' helped to add a special sense of colour to their five matches.
"I'm happy that we left with a good impression," smiled Hong. "It's been a tremendous experience from the minute we arrived in Egypt. It's been crucial in the development of the players as professional footballers, but I also it's has taught them a few important lessons about life as well. I just hope that now they can go back home and play at a higher level more regularly. That would go a long way in making them better players. There's definite potential in them as a group and it would be a shame if it wasn't realised."
Yet when asked about his tip to win the tournament, Hong was typically philosophical and diplomatic! "Of course I'll be watching the tournament with interest, but I'm not going to predict who will win it," he laughed. "Anyone of the semi-finalists will have what it takes. There's a fine line between success and failure as we found out today."