Park Ji-sung, considered by many to be South Korea’s greatest ever player, says Sunday’s shock result in the Group F opener between Mexico and Germany makes his country’s chances of progression to the knockout stages even more difficult.
The former Manchester United midfielder, who represented Korea at three global finals between 2002 and 2010, was in attendance at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow to witness the Mexicans stun the world champions with a 1-0 victory.
With Joachim Low’s men expected to top the group, the defeat increases the pressure on South Korea, who get their campaign under way on Monday against Sweden at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Although the Koreans have qualified for every World Cup since 1986, they have made it to the last 16 only twice before and not since South Africa eights years ago. Last time out, in Brazil, they finished bottom of their group, with one point from three matches.
Speaking to The National following Mexico's triumph against Germany, Park said: "This result was not what we expected, so it changes the group. But we have to focus on our first match and then see what happens for the rest of the group.
“We always aim to pass the group stage; that’s our first goal for this World Cup. And we had a bad performance at the last World Cup, so we want to turn it around from then.”
Park said he was confident his national team could emerge from the group, despite struggling through the last round of qualification. The Koreans did not secure their place in Russia until the final fixture against Uzbekistan in September.
“This World Cup our expectations are quite low because of the national team’s performance during qualification,” Park said. “But the World Cup is the World Cup, so you never know.
“I believe [they can advance]. They prepared well and hopefully they can make it. But this group is very, very tough, and then, again, the first result is not what we expected. So just do our best and see if we can get it.”
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Park played 100 times for South Korea between 2000 and 2011, helping his side to their best-ever finish at a World Cup: third, on home soil, in 2002. He was captain in South Africa in 2010, while his goal against Greece in Port Elizabeth ensured he became the first Asian to score in three consecutive finals.
Hopes for this month's tournament rest primarily on Son Heung-min, the prolific Tottenham Hotspur forward. Asked what the secret to success in Russia will be, Park said: “I don’t know. Maybe the manager knows that. But we have Son, who plays for Tottenham, who can score against any team. So hopefully he can make something at this World Cup.”