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Korea shines without Park

The beaches of Rio felt a million miles away from a freezing cold Seoul World Cup Stadium last Friday evening as South Korea thrashed Honduras 4-0 in a friendly.

It was the first game of the long warm-up ahead of qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and it was the first match in Korea after Park Ji-sung left the international side. If the team continues playing like this, he may not be missed as much as everyone thought.

There was a little sadness before the game among fans knowing that Park was gone and officially not coming back. Now 30, the former captain, who made his 100th and final appearance for the national team in January in an ultimately unsuccessful Asian Cup semifinal against Japan, is focusing on prolonging his club career.

It is time for Korean soccer to move on while not forgetting all he did for the national team. That would be hard to do: He became the first Asian player to score at three successive World Cups. 
Korea’s Park Chu-young (right) celebrates his goal against Honduras. (Yonhap News)
Korea’s Park Chu-young (right) celebrates his goal against Honduras. (Yonhap News)

He was a vital member of the team that reached the 2002 semifinals. He was the only player to score against finalist France in open play during the 2006 World Cup and he captained the Taeguk Warriors to the second round in South Africa, the first time they had made the last 16 overseas.

It is truly the end of an era, and attention is turning to who can replace him. When it comes to star power nobody can ― but then no other Korean plays for one of the biggest and famous clubs in the world.

Park Chu-young is perhaps the best bet in that regard. The striker plays for Monaco, a city that is more glamorous than its club, especially as it struggles to avoid finishing at the bottom of France’s top division. The 25-year-old could be on his way to a bigger club in the summer. This is rumored to be to one of France’s leading teams but if he heads overseas, then England’s Premier League or Spain’s La Liga is likely.

A late goal for the former FC Seoul star ended a good night for him and his team, which outclassed the Central American opposition from the first minute to the last.

If Park has the potential to replace Park senior as the team’s star off the field, then on it, the position it still up for grabs. Kim Bo-kyong had his chance to stake his claim and the Japan-based midfielder impressed with his running, passing and his ability to take the ball past defenders, especially in the first half. It is early days but Kim did enough to get the call back though it remains to be seen if he can make the part permanently his.

By the end however, the team had achieved its main goal. It had played well enough to make fans not pine for their absent Manchester United hero and to forget the sub-zero temperatures. Just as in the Asian Cup, coach Cho Kwang-rae’s men moved the ball around quickly in an attractive way. It was not a perfect performance but against a fellow 2010 World Cup team, it was very good.

“It was good to see that the players wanted to score goals from the first minute to the last,” Cho told reporters after the match. “I never expected that we would score four however. We showed what we can do and while there are things we need to improve on, I want to thank the players and the fans who came to support us on a cold night.”

It was the end of a long winter. If Cho can keep his young team moving forward, the praise is going to be just as warm in months to come and even without Park Ji-sung, the future looks bright.

By John Duerden, Contributing writer  (johnduerden@hotmail.com)
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