Ferguson's wise words spark Park

When South Korea's inspirational captain steps out for his country at the World Cup, the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, will be ringing in his ears.

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SAITAMA, JAPAN // When Ji-sung Park, South Korea's inspirational captain, steps out for his country at the World Cup, the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, will be ringing in his ears. The United midfielder has credited Ferguson for developing his game to the level where he has become the focal point of his national side. "He believed in me and has given me more confidence to play against big teams," the track-suited Park said yesterday on the eve of South Korea's World Cup warm-up against Japan.

"Mentally and physically, I have grown up since I joined Manchester United [in 2005]. Ferguson said 'enjoy the World Cup and good luck' and told me not to come back injured. "I'm feeling fine now. I've had a few days off after the season. I'm getting better so hopefully I'll be 100 per cent at the World Cup." Park, whose inspirational play helped South Korea reach the 2002 World Cup semi-finals under the guidance of Guus Hiddink, the Dutchman, believes they could do even better in South Africa.

"Our goal is to get to the second round," said the 29-year-old. "We're not thinking about anything further... we are just concentrating on our group. "What happened in 2002 was a great result for us. It could happen again but the percentage of it happening isn't high so we just concentrate on the second round and after that nobody knows what can happen in the tournament." Park added that the squad was more balanced this year compared to those who were selected eight years ago. "Our team is very well organised - we have a good mix of young and experienced players," he said. "Hopefully once we get through this World Cup we can compare [favourably] with the 2002 World Cup."

South Korea are in Group B with Greece, Argentina and Nigeria. * Reuters