Reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ was a grand enough prize in itself for Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and Korea DPR. However, in doing so, the quartet also banked themselves an additional gift: the most preparation time of the 31 teams that will line up alongside the host nation next year.
The former trio sealed their presence at the 19th edition of the world finals on 6 June, with two rounds to spare in the Asian Zone preliminaries, leaving themselves with an entire year - or 370 days, to be precise - to gear up for the event. That was not, however, a cue to rest on their laurels.
Friendlies and bases
One of Asia's most accomplished sides in the FIFA World Cup, Korea Republic disappointed at Germany 2006, failing to progress beyond the group stage. Huh Jung-Moo and his new-look charges want to atone for that poor showing and emulate their exploits of 2002, when they reached the semi-finals.
The 54-year-old, who was part of the Korea Republic squad at Mexico 1986, is aware that experience of competing against strong sides will be crucial, and therefore fixed a series of testing friendlies. The Taeguk Warriors open their preparations on 12 August in Paraguay, before playing away to Australia on 5 September. Then, on 10 October, they will be entertained by Senegal.
"We need quite a lot of time to prepare," said Huh. "Friendlies have been arranged that will help us adapt to the World Cup stage. We need to get to know each other and improve our organisation."
Huh, a former midfielder, was present at the recent FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, during which time he pinpointed a potential location for the side's training base next year. "Rustenburg was the best place: a cozy hotel near the training ground and the stadium," he explained. "However, we will have to wait for the Final Draw (to make a definite decision)."
Australia coach Pim Verbeek has targeted the quarter-finals at South Africa 2010, and his preparations will include some interesting friendlies. Aside from the aforementioned meeting with Korea Republic, the Socceroos will visit Republic of Ireland on 12 August before playing host to the Netherlands a month later. Back-to-back AFC Asian Cup 2011 qualifiers against Oman will provide the Dutchman with further opportunity to refine his tactics and experiment with players.
Furthermore, Verbeek has already decided on where the team will acclimatise in South Africa. "They will stay in Johannesburg for the initial period, then move to their training camp," revealed an official from Football Federation Australia.
Japan have the most hectic agenda, however, having set themselves the lofty objective of reaching the last four at the FIFA World Cup. Takeshi Okada's team will face the Netherlands and Ghana in September, Scotland and Togo the following month, and Hong Kong in successive Asian Cup preliminaries midway through November.
"So far the match arrangements have gone as well as I had hoped," said Okada. "I am hoping to use these matches to raise our game a level."