DUBAI // Six days after his walk-on role in the so-called '"Match made in Heaven", Park Ji-Sung carried his weary limbs through a hellishly dull international for South Korea against Oman. It was the type of torpid fare that makes international friendlies such a turn-off, and ended goalless. Park, the Manchester United midfielder who is Korean football's most famous export, was there in body rather than spirit. He captained the side, yet was largely inconspicuous, before becoming one of a raft of half-time substitutions.
It was quite a come-down from the pomp and grandeur of last week's Champions League final, in which his United side were dominated so strikingly by the victors from Barcelona. Yet Park remains upbeat. He says there is little greater motivation for the Koreans than the chance to extend a proud record which has seen them play at every World Cup since 1990. They can seal their place in South Africa next summer if they beat the UAE on Saturday, and Park said: "This is a big challenge for Korea. Going to the World Cup the past sevens times is marvellous. We really want to win here so we can go to the finals.
"It was very disappointing [to lose the Champions League final], but I had to get over it quickly because this game is very important for us. "I have had to try to forget that as quickly as I can and concentrate on playing with these guys. "Sometimes players have to get over bad situations to become a better player. I have to get over that and look forward." Park was not the sole Premier League representative on show. Ali al Habsi, the darling of a small but vocal group of Omani fans at the Wasl Sports Club, gave further evidence that a starting place in goal for Bolton Wanderers should not be beyond him.
The former volleyball player has begun to lose patience with playing second fiddle to Jussi Jaaskelainen at the Reebok Stadium, and may seek a move away this summer. He proved his worth to his national team with a stellar performance against South Korea, which included a late penalty save to maintain parity. He said: "It was a very important save for the team, especially as it came in the last five minutes. That is what you are always trying to do as a goalkeeper.
"It was a very hard game for us, because we had five first-team players not playing, but our young players tried very hard. We got what we wanted from the game, and the four or fine young players we had have gained experience." firstname.lastname@example.org