The 1986 FIFA World Cup™ remains a landmark achievement for Korea Republic, who have since qualified for every edition of the global showpiece. The man responsible for securing their seventh consecutive appearance at South Africa 2010 is none other than Huh Jung-Moo, who figured prominently for the Taeguk Warriors in that hot Mexican summer 24 years ago. Since Huh took the reins of the national team two years ago the South Koreans have enjoyed a lengthy unbeaten run and qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in confident manner.
Aside from a stunning run to the last four at Korea/Japan 2002, the East Asians have never progressed beyond the group stage at the FIFA World Cup. But Huh, who helped his team obtain their first ever FIFA World Cup finals point with a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria in Mexico City, is aiming to break new ground by taking the team into the knockout stage for the very first time on foreign soil. FIFA.com spoke recently with the 55-year-old who shed light on his past experiences, his two years in charge and the team’s prospects.
FIFA.com: You featured prominently with Korea Republic as a player at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, including scoring in the 3-2 loss against Italy. How does it feel returning to the world’s greatest football stage as a coach?
Huh Jung-Moo: For me the World Cup has linked some of the important periods of my life. I have so far appeared at the event as a player, an assistant coach, a television commentator and I’m excited to now return as a head coach. But being the manager it means responsibility, leadership and achievements so it will be different experience from my previous role.
Coming back to the global showpiece after 24 years, what goals have you set for yourself and the team?
We finished semi-finalists in 2002 but, aside from this, we have never progressed beyond the group stage playing outside Asia. So our first target is to reach the round of sixteen and should we make it, we will definitely strive to go one better.
How do you rate your chances of progressing from a group which also features Argentina, Greece and Nigeria?
It is one of the toughest groups but we are confident that we can complete our mission. After going through Asia’s fierce qualifying campaign to seal our spot at the World Cup, the team is competition hardened and by the time the tournament kicks off, we will be prepared to challenge all odds.
You faced Diego Maradona and Argentina at Mexico 1986. Now you will be crossing paths with him again with both of you switching roles from the playing field to the bench. How are you approaching that meeting on a tactical level?
From our last meeting we gained precious experiences on which we can better prepare our team this time around. We will be highly motivated to play against them to gain the result we need.
Will the achievement of Korea/Japan 2002 be a motivation or an additional pressure for the team?
The unprecedented feat has left us with great expectations to live up to. But meanwhile we can also take heart from the success. We perform at the world stage not only representing our country but also the continent and this is all the motivation we need.
In your two years in charge, you have transformed a transitional Korea Republic side into one of Asia’s most competitive teams. What changes have you implemented?
When I took over the side back in 2007 I decided the most urgent task was a changing of the guard. Since then new blood has been injected into the team and the transition has proved successful. In order to get the best out of the players, we choose those who are in their best form and who are most motivated to play for the nation.
Korea Republic’s lengthy undefeated run was brought to an end by a 1-0 loss to Serbia in November. What will you do to improve your capabilities against European teams?
Despite the result, we didn’t play badly against Serbia, dominating the game and creating good chances. We have our strengths and we won’t just sit back defending when playing against European teams. We will play our own game regardless of the opponents.
What is your preparatory plan for the months to come?
We had a winter training camp early this year with the team mainly consisting of K-league players, while the upcoming East Asian Football Championship provide us with a rare chance to take stock of the home-based talents. A series of friendly matches will be played in March and the team will be leaving for Europe in May for the final preparation, before heading to South Africa.