When Japan square off with tense rivals Korea Republic at Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan stadium on 8 December, there will be more at stake than mere passage to the coveted final round of eight. The Koreans edged out Japan in the 2002 U-20 Asian Cup Final in Doha, Qatar to become champions of Asia for an unprecedented tenth time, and the hurt still lingers for the runners-up. FIFA.com caught up with a few veterans from the Final to talk style, rivalry and even revenge ahead of the East Asian showdown.
As the clock was ticking down on 31 October 2002, Japan’s short passing and flair brilliance were just starting to fray around the edges a bit. Korea, with their always disciplined, always powerful and always pestering style were beginning to take control of the dramatic Final. Finely balanced at nil-all, Jung Jo Gook – one of Korea’s towering strikers - broke free and crushed Japanese hopes with a golden goal just seven minutes into the first period of extra time.
Short-passing the key for stylish Japanese
Looking back on the tragic defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals, Japanese midfielder and main creative force Sho Naruoka of Jubilo Iwata speaks of a clash of footballing styles. “It was a very tough game for us,” he said. “In the final minutes, the Korean team came on very strong. We could not keep up with their powerful and physical style.”
hough sombre about the last meeting between the two, Naruoka – who tries to emulate his hero Zinedine Zidane - is feeling confident ahead of the return bout in Abu Dhabi. “This time if we use our short-passing game effectively, we will definitely find a way to break them down – we are a different team now,” he said. “We know each other very well. They know our weaknesses and strengths and we know theirs. Using short passes and playing creative football is the only way we can break down the physical and disciplined Koreans and break their power play. I think we have a great chance to win if we just play to our strengths.”
Japanese coach Kiyoshi Ohkuma is also in confident mood ahead of the all-Asia grudge match. “We are not concerned with how many times we have lost to Korea,” said the boss who has seen his side fall to the Taeguk Warriors four times on the trot. “That is all in the past and now we are only looking at the future.”
Counter-attacking Korea preach control
Even before the finals got underway, Korean striker Kim Dong Hyun was talking about the semi-finals. But before they can look that far ahead, the squad – who barely managed to escape Group F with a third-place finish - will need to focus squarely on their sublimely talented near neighbours. “Our goal is surely to qualify for the semi-finals,” the tall striker said. “We will be disappointed if we do not reach at least this far.”
yun knows his side’s strengths and will be looking to play to them when the two sides meet. “Our team relies heavily on our speed and the fact that we are well-organised. We can change from defence to attack faster than most. And physically we are stronger.”
But Korea coach Park Sun Wha will not make the mistake of looking beyond the silky Japanese, knowing that this time around his side must be considered underdogs as Japan ran through to win a tough Group D with wins over Colombia and Egypt.
“As always Japan will pose a significant threat, they are a difficult foe,” the coach said. “We will give them no less than the necessary respect, but also no more. We will play to our strengths and do all we can do win the match. We will approach Japan just like any other team."
And though Wha may see the meeting as just another football match, Japan’s gifted number seven is out for something more than a spot in the quarter-finals. “This would be a great chance for us to take revenge for our loss in the Asian Cup Final,” said Naruoka. “We have been rivals for a long time, and we want to be the top side in Asia. We believe that the only way to do this is to rise above Korea…we must fight for it.”