Korea Republic coach Cho Kwang-Rae lauded the contribution of Koo Ja-Cheol after the midfielder's double earned his side a 2-1 victory over Bahrain in their AFC Asian Cup opener.
Koo excelled in a central role in support of lone striker Ji Dong-Won in Monday's game, testing Bahrain goalkeeper Mahmood Mansoor after wriggling into the box mid-way through the first half and giving his side the lead with a deflected shot shortly before half-time. The 21-year-old Jeju United midfielder tapped home his second in the 52nd minute, reacting sharply after Mansoor had parried a powerful Cha Du-Ri effort, and was substituted to resounding applause later in the game.
He was also named man of the match, and his coach paid tribute to his versatility. "Koo Ja-Cheol is very skillful and he can play many different positions, both in central midfield or as an attacking midfielder," said Cho. "Cha Du-Ri played well at right-back as well, so they will both be under consideration for the Australia game."
Captain Park Ji-Sung, the darling of the national side, said he was pleased to have avoided a slip-up in the opening game. "Tactically, we were solid and our overall performance was good," said the Manchester United wide player. "The first match is always important at an Asian Cup or a World Cup. The three points makes the rest of the games that much easier for us. It was very important to win."
The Taeguk Warriors meet Australia on Friday in a game likely to decide which of the two pre-tournament favourites comes out on top in Group C. Korea Republic will have to do without centre-back Kwak Tae-Hwi, after he was sent off for fouling Abdulla Al-Dakeel in an incident that led to Faouzi Aaish bringing Bahrain back into the game from the penalty spot in the 85th minute.
Cho, though, feels his squad is deep enough to cover for Kwak's absence. "It would have been better to avoid the sending off, but we have three good centre-backs who can cover, so one of those will play against Australia," said Cho, who took over from Huh Jung-Moo last July after South Korea's run to the last 16 at the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa.
Korea Republic's participation in South Africa marked the seventh consecutive time they had qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals, but they have not won the Asian Cup since their second triumph at the continental showpiece in 1960. Park said the time was nigh to end the 51-year wait.
"We feel very strongly about it," he said. "Not just me but everyone on the team feels that way. If we end it here, the younger players can build on it in the future and perform on the world stage."
Cho revealed that the team were approaching the tournament with a double-pronged objective. "Korea has two big targets: win the Asian Cup and change the generation of players after the World Cup," said the coach.
"To achieve these two targets in the long term and the short term, I wanted to change our style of play. I think the young players did an excellent job. If we have enough time to improve these young players, the future will be bright for us."