The time has come for Korea Republic to stand up tall on the international stage, coach Huh Jung-Moo declared on Friday on the eve of his team's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ opener against Greece.
The Koreans, making their seventh successive appearance in the tournament, excelled on home turf in 2002, making it to the last four, but crashed out in the first round four years ago in Germany. "The moment is here for us to show that Korean football has improved, not only in Asia but also on the world stage," Huh told a press conference at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium. "This is the time to show the rest of the world what we can do."
Huh is a noted master of changgi, Korean chess, but declared that he was having trouble working out the strategy of his Greek opposite number, Otto Rehhagel, ahead of this Group B curtain raiser. "It's very difficult to read Otto Rehhagel's strategy - he has a lot of experience and has seen a lot. What's clear is that like South Korea Greece want to win this first game."
He is wary of the Greek's height advantage. "Compared to Greece our players are shorter so they will probably play a lot in the air and rely on set pieces. But if height was the only factor I'd put on a side of basketball players. Set pieces are a risk, but we have our strong points too."
Huh is the first Korean to be in charge of the national team for over a decade and he conceded that factor added to the pressure of his job with the fans back home in Seoul. "It's quite a big burden on me but more importantly we want to get away from the image of a team that doesn't perform well away from home. We have a strong resolve and hope to do well tomorrow."
One clued up Korean journalist then rather surprised Huh by producing a statistic that of those teams that lost their opening FIFA World Cup match only 8.3 per cent went on to qualify for the last 16. "Yes I agree the first game is very important but I think it's dangerous to say that we absolutely have to win tomorrow's game, I don't think it will be the decisive game, that will come in our third first round game against Nigeria."
Huh was keeping his final XI safely under wraps despite persistent invitations to reveal his hand. "The list will be published one hour before kick-off," he said, before concluding: "We have prepared thoroughly for victory tomorrow. I hope my players won't be afraid and will play to their top level."