Park Ji-Sung had written the script. Millions of South Koreans had read and devoured it. It was 27 May 2009. It was the night of the UEFA Champions League final. It was a game the Manchester United winger, who had been cruelly denied the chance to become the first Asian to appear in the prestigious fixture 12 months previously, vowed to headline.
Just two minutes in, his legions of devotees were on the edge of delirium. Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes had spilled Cristiano Ronaldo's shot into the path of Park. Atypically, the Korea Republic captain panicked. The chance went begging. Park's thoughts turned instantly to making amends. A diminutive Argentinian had other ideas. His name was Lionel Messi. His performance inspired Barcelona to a 2-0 victory.
Park and Messi will reunite in Soccer City today. This time they will be in the colours of their respective countries. This time the former is determined to emerge a winner, despite his side being overwhelming underdogs against a star-stacked Albiceleste side that includes the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year. "Argentina are the best team in our group," began Park. "They have a lot of top international players. People are saying they could make the Final. Of course there is a difference in standard between the two teams but the unexpected can happen in this World Cup, and that is what we are looking to do."
Korea Republic have reason to be optimistic. They are fresh from a 2-0 win over Greece in which Park scored a sumptuous individual goal en route to the Budweiser Man of the Match Award. "If we play as a team like we did against Greece, we're capable of getting a result," said the 29-year-old. "There may be differences in our ability, but I guarantee we will give it all that we have. If the flow of the game goes in our direction, I think there will be a shock for a lot of people. We are playing to win."
Another intriguing subplot to the match is Park squaring off against his friend and former United colleague Carlos Tevez. "We have played together and I think it is great that we will play against each other," said the former Kyoto Sanga and PSV Eindhoven player. "But this is not just a friendly, this is the greatest place to play football. We are both adversaries for now and will both be doing our best to win the game." If Park can get one over on his Argentinian mate, and avenge his last face-off with Messi, those South Koreans who anticipated euphoria 13 months ago in Rome will explode into a significantly greater state of ecstasy in Johannesburg.