Many fine players from Korea Republic have succeeded in building global reputations for themselves over the years, leaving an unforgettable imprint on their clubs. Among that elite group, Cha Bumkun and Hong Myung-Bo are generally considered to be the greatest footballers ever produced by the Asian nation.
Unlike his legendary compatriot, the latter-named defender never represented a major European side, plying his trade exclusively in Japan and South Korea, except for a short spell with Los Angeles Galaxy in season 2003/04.
Myung-Bo’s leadership qualities played a crucial role in his country obtaining the most impressive result in their history, as they finished fourth at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/JapanTM.
After four exciting experiences at FIFA’s flagship tournament as a player, it is in the role of coach that the former sweeper will lead the Taegeuk Warriors to Brazil 2014.
Appointed last June after the qualifying campaign had drawn to a close, he is hopeful of passing on some of his experience and know-how to his young charges, to inspire them to excel in South America this summer.
FIFA.com recently caught up with Myung-Bo, now 44, at the World Cup Draw in Costa do Sauipe. In a wide-ranging interview, the Korea Republic icon discussed his long career, his memories of playing on football’s greatest stage, and the Dutch influence on his coaching philosophy.
FIFA.com: You appeared at four FIFA World Cups. How important is it to pass on your experience to the new generation of players under your command?
Hong Myung-Bo: The FIFA World Cup is a unique event for which you must prepare meticulously. Describing my past experiences to young players is not an easy task, as the majority of them will be making their tournament debut. The most important thing is to be well prepared. I’m expecting my boys to go into the competition bursting with confidence.
What do you remember of your first World Cup adventure in 1990, or your first match against Belgium?
I was very young, but it was still a huge honour to represent my country. We lost that game 2-0, if I remember correctly. The overall experience was very disappointing for our team, but from a personal point of view, I was satisfied with the performances I put in.
You subsequently starred at USA 1994, where you and your team-mates suffered a narrow 3-2 defeat at the hands of Germany.
The pressure of taking on the holders was tough to handle. We started badly, letting in three goals in the first half. I remember that it was really hot and that we struggled physically, especially after the break. But despite all that, the players performed wonderfully well, fighting back and scoring twice. It’s a shame that we ran out of time, as otherwise we might well have drawn level with the Germans.
What is your fondest memory from the 2002 World Cup, where you were captain of one of the host nations?
It was a big responsibility for me; it was crucial that we achieved good results. That must have been why I was able to block out my age and my physical problems. My greatest memory remains our opening win over Poland. It was my country’s first-ever victory at the World Cup, and my first taste of success after three win-less tournaments.
During the competition, you scored the winning penalty against Spain which qualified the Koreans for the semi-finals.
The result went our way, but the seconds prior to that were unbearable. It’s not something I’d like to relive any time soon.
Do you think that your players could enjoy a similar level of success in Brazil?
It’s going to be very difficult. To create a surprise, a massive effort and huge sacrifices will be required.
What sort of influence have the Dutch coaches (Guus Hiddink, Pim Verbeek and Dick Advocaat) with whom you have worked had on you?
I worked closely in the Korean set-up with all three men – I learned a lot from them and I use what they taught me to improve the way I organise and prepare my own team.
Korea Republic endured a demanding qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014. Has the Asian qualifying process become more difficult over the years?
In Asia, several countries have invested heavily in the development of their national sides. This has created some strong teams and levelled the playing field somewhat. We went through a difficult time in qualifying, and that’s likely to remain the case, unless we bring ourselves in line with other countries, in terms of resources and the attention paid to football.
You also enjoyed success at the helm of the Korean U-23 team that earned a bronze medal at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012. Was your strategy to make use of some of those young players in Brazil?
Our performances during that event were commendable, but we now need to put those great memories to one side and move forward. The World Cup and Olympic Football Tournament are two different competitions, but the groundwork we’ve done with the players is certainly pretty similar. Our team still has room for improvement, and we’re going to do all that we can to make progress ahead of the next World Cup in four years’ time.