South Korea must deliver to progress
JOHANNESBURG // Going into the first tournament on African soil, the expectation was of the continent's six nations rising to the occasion. But, while Africa's balance sheet reads like a bad school report - played 12, won one, drawn four, lost seven - it is Asia whose countries are shining. It has not been a bad tournament at all for Asia, even if you take into account the yield of Australia - who now belong to the Asian Football Confederation - who have a meagre one point from two matches. Japan have made history already, by winning their first World Cup match outside their own islands. And South Korea could today stride more purposefully into the annals of the Asian game, by qualifying for the knockout rounds for the first time in a tournament not staged in their own territory. Asia's away record is suddenly looking up. But the South Koreans are in a complicated position, in that a draw against Nigeria in Durban tonight might be enough to usher them into the next round. But should Greece defeat Argentina, even a win would leave South Korea at the mercy of goal difference calculations, an algebra in which their 4-1 defeat against Diego Maradona's side has done them few favours. African teams have so far collected, on average, barely half a point per game, the worst record of any continent. Nigeria have zero, but still have the slightest of chances of avoiding the same fate of Cameroon, who were the first team to be eliminated from the tournament. Group B, a rarity in this tournament in that so far there have been no draws in the four fixtures, is one of several to watch with the television remote control at close reach. Channel-hopping from Greece-Argentina to South Korea-Nigeria could be necessary right up to the final whistle. The South Koreans have been made well aware of their history-making status. For this generation, the achievement of 2002, when, on home soil, South Korea's dynamic and industrious team made it all the way to a World Cup semi-final acts as both spur and burden. Granted, it would upset the form-guide if the 2010 squad made it to the last four. But it would also upset close to 50 million South Koreans, whose expectations were raised as soon as their compatriots beat Greece on the second day of the competition, if they pack their suitcases for home tomorrow. "What I have said to the players is that they must not end up with regrets after this game," Jung-moo Huh, the head coach, told a press conference. "I told them they must compete right until the final whistle for that. They know that a World Cup can be a once in a lifetime experience." His point was clear, though six of the current South Korean squad, those who participated eight years ago, hope that playing the knockout rounds of a World Cup might actually be a twice-in-a-lifetime adventure. Huh stressed the need to regain momentum after the Argentina loss. "We need to be more solid and better organised, which we know we can be. The problem against Argentina came from us leaving too much space for them to attack. The players must put in a greater effort against Nigeria." Gung-ho would not be the right approach, he added: "It's not a question of being defensive of very attacking in the situation we are in. We need to play a balanced game because Nigeria are not an easy side to play against." Inevitably, the point was put to Huh that Nigeria look to have advantages of height and physical strength over the South Koreans. "I think they will play hard right from the start," said the coach. "But we will have prepared for that and I hope that will show straight away." Up in Polokwane, Greece will strive to build on their own piece of history. Their 2-1 win over the Nigerians has already given the country their first ever World Cup points, their maiden goals in the finals and sufficient encouragement to believe that, like the South Koreans, they can sustain for another few days at least the idea of emulating their most successful predecessors. The Greeks were European champions six years ago, a high enough of a measuring stick to ensure that elimination in the first round here will be regarded as a flop back home. The good news for them is that Argentina, with six points already but not yet mathematically certain to go through, will probably rest some senior players. The bad news is that even if Maradona left out Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain, he could still put Sergio Aguero and Diego Milito up front. firstname.lastname@example.org
Argentina (6 points, +4 goal difference) A win or draw against Greece will guarantee first place in Group B. Argentina can only go out if they lose to Greece, and South Korea win. The three teams would then be tied on six points, and it will come to goal difference. South Korea (3 points, -1 goal) A win against Nigeria and a win or draw for Argentina against Greece puts South Korea through in second place. If South Korea avoid defeat while matching Greece's result against Argentina, then it comes down to goal difference. Greece (3 points, -1 goal) If Greece lose they are out. If they beat Argentina, and Nigeria take anything off South Korea, they qualify. Otherwise, Greece must match South Korea's result (unless its a loss of course), then it comes down to goal difference. Nigeria (0 points, -2 goals) The only way Nigeria can go through is if they beat South Korea and Argentina beat Greece. Then there will be a three-way tie on points, but this scenario guarantees Nigeria go through on goal difference.
Published: June 22, 2010 04:00 AM