Man United star set to announce retirement from national team
It ended in tears. It often does for those that are expected to succeed but don’t quite make it. South Korea ended the 2011 Asian Cup in third place, the same as 2007. The trophy may not have been lifted, it hasn’t been gripped by Korean hands since 1960, the final not quite reached but all in all, the tournament was a satisfying one for coach Cho Kwang-rae and his men.
It could have ended better after a thrilling semifinal against Japan. Leading 1-0 and then 2-1 down for most of extra-time, Hwang Jae-won fired home an equalizer in the 120th minute of action. After staring elimination in the face and not backing down, the Korean team, coaching staff and fans in Doha celebrated like they had won the trophy itself. There was still the penalty shootout to come however.
Orthodox thinking suggests in such a situation that the team which has just equalized has the psychological advantage. It didn’t work out that way. Japan bounced back swiftly to score three out of four while Korea’s young guns missed all theirs.
The ones who missed will put it down to experience and that will be the theme of the entire tournament from the Taeguk Warrior viewpoint. The likes of Koo Ja-cheol, Ji Dong-won and Yoon Bit-garam, all young K-League players, all did their reputations no harm at all.
Korean national team players give Park Ji-sung one final send-off after beating Uzbekistan. (Yonhap News)
Koo, from Jeju United, was the only player to score in all three group games and ended with five goals overall. He has already been linked to English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers and Stuttgart in Germany. There will be more reports and rumors over the next few months.
Korea played some very good soccer in Qatar at times and despite the elimination at the hands of Japan, emerged undefeated. Cho had talked of introducing a new short and fast passing game and he did just that.
“This tournament gave us a lot of opportunity to show the world the new possibilities of Korean football,” said Cho.
“I believe we’ve changed the way we play. It’s a much better way so I want to keep working on this progress to better Korean football. Throughout the Asian Cup, I found the players were able to pass the ball through midfield much quicker than before so that aspect I was quite satisfied about.
“I would like to improve on what we’re doing, be faster in front of goal to make us much more effective and also strengthen the defensive organization.”
More goals would have been good. The style was pleasing but it didn’t always bring the rewards it deserved. A failure to score an extra goal against India despite complete domination meant that Korea finished second in its group and progressed to the tougher part of the knockout stage with a harder route to the final. Instead of Iran and Japan, it could have been Iraq and Uzbekistan.
One defender made the last of 127 appearances for the national team and that was Lee Young-pyo. The versatile fullback made his debut way back in 1999 and was present at the World Cups of 2002, 2006 and 2010 during which he played his club soccer for Anyang Cheetahs, PSV Eindhoven in Netherlands, London club Tottenham Hotspur and German giants Borussia Dortmund from where he moved to Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia.
The big question however surrounded Park Ji-sung. The captain had an impressive tournament and showed fans in Qatar the skills Manchester United fans are familiar with. Park’s father told reporters in December that his son would no longer play for the national team after the Asian Cup as he wanted to focus on his career in the English Premier League. It does make sense of sorts, most of the injuries the star collects tend to come from his Korea duty as the fact that he missed the third-place match with Uzbekistan on Friday, which the Taeguk Warriors won 3-2, suggests.
Cho told reporters that Park, who made his 100th appearance for the national team against Japan, would step down from international action. The player himself is holding a press conference in Seoul on Monday when he will confirm and explain.
It will be a sad end to what has been an encouraging month for Korean football but the game goes on. There is enough young talent in the Land of the Morning Calm to ensure a bright future but on Monday at least, all will be looking back over what has been a glittering international career. And then, as it should, attention will turn to qualification for the 2014 World Cup. It never stops.
By John Duerden, Contributing writer (email@example.com