Cho keeping his cool
Korea Republic coach Cho Kwang-Rae says the key to success will be keeping calm if his side are to lift the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.
Korea Republic, who were FIFA World Cup™ semi-finalists on home soil in 2002, reached the Round of 16 at last year's World Cup in South Africa and are in Qatar bidding to end a 51-year wait for honours at Asia's premier international tournament.
The South Koreans and Australia are widely expected to breeze through the group phase, but Cho insists his men cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball in their opening game. "I've watched videos of Bahrain's matches and I've been to the stadium to watch their games," he said today.
"The analysis has been done. Bahrain are a strong all-round team, so it will be quite a difficult game for us. I will speak to the players. The only thing they need to focus on is playing with confidence. Once they start enjoying the game, they will do a good job."
Cho's words were echoed by captain Park Ji-Sung, who has hinted that this may be his final international tournament. "The first match of the tournament is very important," said the Manchester United midfielder. "We have many young players without international experience, so I will tell the boys to enjoy the game. Once they are comfortable in the game, they will have no problems."
Korea Republic warmed-up with a training camp in Abu Dhabi, where they played against Syria and a local club side. Cho revealed that he had taken special steps to prepare his team for the nimble attacking play characteristic of Gulf sides such as Bahrain.
"In comparison with when the players were called up at the beginning of our preparations, we have progressed a lot," said Cho, who was appointed in July. "We were especially focusing on not letting the skillful Middle East players play their own game and get on the ball. That aspect has progressed a lot. The players have improved their organisation. I'm satisfied with their preparation."
Bahrain beat the South Koreans 2-1 when they met at the last AFC Asian Cup in 2007, but progressed no further than the group phase. They limped out of the Gulf Cup late last year after picking up only a single point, and coach Salman Sharida says they will have to get to grips with the speed of the South Korean team.
"The Korean national team, like all the national teams in modern football, depend on speed," said Sharida, a former Bahrain international. "Korea rely on playing the ball quickly. But Bahrain are capable and we have the ability to withstand the speedy play of the Korean team."
Bahrain are crossing their fingers that captain Salman Isa will play after the left-back sustained a leg injury prior to the tournament. The Al Arabi Club star took over the captaincy when previous skipper Mohammed Salmeen broke his leg but tore a muscle in a recent friendly against Saudi Arabia.
"Salman Isa is undergoing treatment and his condition is improving by the day," said Sharida. "He took part in training and his condition will determine whether he plays or not. I would say there is an 80 percent chance he will play."