Huh Jung-Moo created a small piece of history on Saturday by becoming the first South Korean coach to win a FIFA World Cup™ match with his charges' 2-0 defeat of Greece in Port Elizabeth. Korea Republic's fifth victory in the finals did not only mark their third consecutive winning start in the FIFA World Cup but also showed what they are capable of on their own.
The South Koreans had claimed their first-ever victory on the world stage eight years ago, when as co-hosts they beat Poland 2-0 in their group opener. Under the guidance of Guus Hiddink, they went on to defeat Portugal 1-0 to reach the Round of 16, where they stunned favourites Italy with a 2-1 win after extra time. Their fourth success followed four years later as another Dutchman, Dick Advocaat, oversaw a 2-1 win over Togo.
However, Saturday's win carried special significance given Huh succeeded where previous native Korean coaches had failed. At the country's first FIFA World Cup appearance in 1954, Kim Yong-Sik was in charge and suffered two crushing defeats by Hungary (0-9) and Turkey (0-7). When Korea Republic returned to the FIFA World Cup in 1986, Kim Jung-Nam guided them to their first point with a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria but they went down to defeats against traditional powerhouses Argentina and Italy.
Lee Hoe-Taik, now chairman of Korean FA's technical committee, held the reins at Italy 1990, where the Taeguk Warriors slumped to defeats against Belgium, Spain and Uruguay. And after both Kim Ho-Kon and even the legendary Cha Bum-Kun failed to grab an elusive victory in the following two editions of the FIFA World Cup, it was inevitable that the Koreans would turn to the experience and knowhow of foreign coaches.
For seven years from 2001, save for a short-lived spell under the Portuguese Humberto Coelho, Korea Republic were under Dutch leadership with Hiddink, Jo Bonfrere, Advocaat and Pim Verbeek taking turns in the hot seat. The Dutchmen had mixed results in major international tournaments during that period, but it is fair to say that the South Korean team were transformed into a better organised side filled with experienced players and a winning mentality.
Experience the key
When the officials at the KFA turned back to a home-grown coach in December 2007, they must have thought that the time was ripe to adapt the lessons learned from the Dutch while restoring a native influence to give the best of both worlds. As it turned out, Huh was the right man to do the job by building a balanced squad that is regarded as being by far the strongest ever Korea Republic team at the FIFA World Cup.
One of the reasons why Huh could ring the changes so successfully in such a short period of time is that the 55-year-old has considerable experience of FIFA World Cups. He participated at Mexico 1986 as a player – where he faced Diego Maradona, his rival in the dugout this coming Thursday – before joining the national squad as a fitness trainer in 1990. Huh was then an assistant coach at USA 1994, where the Taeguk Warriors finally began to make an impact on the world stage with draws against Spain and Bolivia and a narrow loss to Germany.
Affectionately dubbed the 'Jindo dog' – his loyal, determined character recalls the well-known breed of dog from his native island – Huh is not the kind of a man who rests on his laurels. As he stated on his appointment as coach, this is the final chapter of his football life, and his first win at the finals might only be the beginning of it.