Players on the South Korean national football team have put their recent big loss to Ghana behind them as they get ready for a more crucial task ahead, the squad's head coach said Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Hong Myung-bo and his 23-man team arrived in Foz do Iguacu, their base camp during the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, after wrapping up an earlier camp in Miami.
South Korea has struggled mightily in its preparation for the tournament. It lost to Tunisia 1-0 in Seoul on May 28 and fell to Ghana 4-0 in Miami on Monday.
At a press conference before the team's first practice in Foz do Iguacu at Pedro Basso Stadium, Hong dispelled concerns that his players were too psychologically wounded from the loss to Ghana.
"We left our disappointments back in Miami as we departed for Brazil," Hong said. "Obviously, we were down on ourselves because we didn't play quite as we wanted to, but there's no lingering feeling of a letdown on this team."
South Korea will open its World Cup against Russia next Tuesday in Cuiaba, about 1,100 kilometers north of Foz do Iguacu. Algeria and Belgium are the two other opponents for South Korea in Group H.
Hong said he will try to right the ship the best he can in what little time he has left until the first match.
"We're going to have to bear down and concentrate harder than before," the coach said. "I think we have enough time to address our issues, and you don't need to worry about the team's morale at this point."
Hong said the next three days will be the most important stretch for his team leading up to the Russian match, and added that the key will be to figure out Russia's attacking patterns and its potential holes on defense.
"Our players must develop a better recognition of the type of football we're supposed to play," Hong said. "If we'd had a player who could control the match (against Ghana), maybe we wouldn't have given up additional goals after going down 2-0. But it wasn't just due to lack of any one player. Our team as a whole lost its focus."
Later in the day, the coach ran his players through some spirited passing drills for about an hour in a FIFA-mandated open practice. With several hundreds of fans watching from the stands, the players were divided into three groups, making short, quick passes while defending players tried to steal the ball.
After their session, the players echoed Hong's sentiment expressed earlier, saying they will not dwell on past results. Forward Koo Ja-cheol, the team's captain, said he and his teammates have all learned from their defeats.
"We've been through some tough times, but through them all, we've been learning what we're supposed to do," Koo said. "We will try to show everything we have in the first match (against Russia), and we will let our action do all the talking."
Defensive back Park Joo-ho said not all was lost from Miami because the disappointing match against Ghana brought the team closer.
Park, who was a last-minute replacement for injured defender Kim Jin-su, also said it's up to each player to be the field general that Hong earlier said South Korea lacked against Ghana.
"In football, there's only so much an individual player can do to turn the tide in a match," Park said. "We're going to have to concentrate harder over the coming days and prepare the best we can."
Striker Park Chu-young has been on the hot seat for his failure to generate any offense. He said scoring goals won't simply be his responsibility alone.
"Everyone needed to work together to create chances, but we weren't able to do that (against Ghana)," he said. "I don't want to just take a lot of shots by myself. I'd like to help the whole team be more productive."
The usually reticent veteran, playing in his third straight World Cup, has been decidedly more loquacious in practices so far. Park explained that talking to younger teammates "helps build camaraderie" and that he consciously speaks to them for the sake of team morale.
However, Park said he doesn't want to be seen as the team's vocal leader.
"Everyone has to be a leader on his own," he said. "I am more than willing to support my teammates." (Yonhap)