Advocaat confident but cautious
In the build-up to Korea Republic's opening match against Togo, coach Dick Advocaat was keen to play down talk of the problems that have undermined the Africans' preparations.
"You never know if it is an advantage or a disadvantage that there are some problems (in the Togo camp)," said Advocaat. "It is possible that because of the problems the team will unite more than normal. We will only be able to tell afer the game."
While his Togo counterpart Otto Pfister was resigning and then returning to his post, Advocaat's focus was entirely on his own players and which formation they might be best deployed in Frankfurt on Tuesday. After sticking with a 4-3-3 formation since the beginning of the year, Advocaat spent last weekend experimenting with alternatives.
He has said that he will start with "either a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3" against the Sparrowhawks and, injuries permitting, the latter appears the more probable option.
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One of Advocaat's most valuable assets is the experience of a group that includes ten survivors of the Koreans' 2002 FIFA World Cup campaign. One of the elder statesman is Song Chong-Gug, who played in all seven of Korea Republic's games on home soil four years ago.
Highly rated by Advocaat, the defender has only just returned to fitness after being plagued by injury in recent months. Song and fellow wing-back Lee Young-Pyo will most likely cover the left and right flanks if Advocaat opts for a standard back four against the Africans on Tuesday.
There is also vast experience in other areas of the Korean rearguard, with veteran goalkeeper and captain Lee Woon-Jae just three games away from making his 100th international appearance. Elsewhere, the team's oldest and youngest players, Choi Jin-Cheul (35) and Kim Jin-Kyu (21), look set to link up in central defence.
Meanwhile in midfield, Park Ji-Sung heads a strong line-up. In a press conference on Sunday, the Manchester United star confidently predicted that the special attention he expected from the Togolese would allow the Korean forwards plenty of room for manoeuvre, and his fellow midfielders the space to maintain a regular supply line to them.
Park's skills going forward, both through the centre and on the right wing, mean it is vital for Korea Republic that he shakes off a niggling ankle injury and finds his best form in Germany.
Behind Park will be defensive midfielder Lee Eul-Yong, the man responsible for Korea Republic's only goal in their 3-1 defeat by Ghana in the final warm-up match. Lee boasts the most accurate dead-ball skills in the side, and his midfield companion, the tough-tackling Kim Nam-Il, provides a valuable link between defence and midfield.
With the game scheduled for a 15:00 kick-off (CET), centre-forward Ahn Jung-Hwan was predicting a physically exhausting match in the German heat. It will not be the only heat on the shoulders of a Korean side desperate for a first FIFA World Cup win on European soil.
However, a confident Advocaat reasoned: "The skills of the players are good and the team spirit is excellent. Everybody works for each other and there is no shouting at team-mates if somebody loses the ball. I'm very excited although it is a big challenge to win our first World Cup game outside of Korea."