With the 2002 World Cup now a fond memory, Korea Republic face a tall order in trying to emulate the achievement of reaching the semi-finals on home soil when they travel to Germany for their sixth successive finals appearance. Some unconvincing displays in qualifying â€” where they lost two and drew three of their 12 matches â€” should at least provide a note of caution for their highly expectant fans.
The South Koreans suffered an early embarrassment on the road to Germany when they were held to a goalless draw in the Maldives in the second match of the preliminary group stage. That result cost Portuguese coach Humberto Coelho his job and led to the appointment of Dutchman Jo Bonfrere who guided the team through to Asian last eight with no further slip-ups.
However, come the final qualifying round in 2005, South Korean confidence took several more dents. After opening with a home win over Kuwait in February, Bonfrereâ€™s side were well beaten by Saudi Arabia in their second match on 25 March, going down 2-0 in Dammam. Although they then defeated Uzbekistan 2-1 in Seoul, it took an injury-time equalizer from debutant Park Chu-Young to rescue a point in the return match in Tashkent on 3 June. A 4-0 drubbing of Kuwait five days later secured their place at Germany 2006 but after a 1-0 home loss to Saudi Arabia in their final qualifier in August, Bonfrere resigned amid criticism of the teamâ€™s lacklustre performances.
Prior to 2002, Korea Republic had not managed a single win in 14 finals matches. That all changed under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink who led them to the last four after victories over four European teams â€” Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain. It was a stunning run ended only by a 1-0 loss to Germany in the semi-finals.
Although there have been changes to the South Korean side since, the heroes of 2002 all retain key roles. Park Ji-Sung, now at Manchester United, provides a genuine attacking threat from midfield, while left-back Lee Young-Pyo is a key figure in a defence that operates in front of experienced goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae.