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Coach: Korea Could Surprise World Again

Posted November. 24, 2005 08:29,   


Finishing up a bowl of rice with doenjang chigger (bean-paste pot stew), Pim Verbeek, the 49-year-old coach of the Korean national football team, seems to have turned Korean…almost. He still can’t eat live octopus.

Verbeek aided Guss Hiddink in the 2002 World Cup, helping to lead the Korean national team to the final four. He returned to Korea in September with Dick Advocaat to salvage a struggling Korean national team.

He is popular among Korean football fans. There is something about him that reminds people of a taciturn Korean farmer: prudent and credible.

“There’s an ample possibility that Korea will raise another storm in the World Cup next year,” said Verbeek. His declaration carries much weight because of his normally reserved, self-effacing nature.

“The team’s preparation is much harder and completely different from 2002. But our players are way better in terms of skills and stamina compared to 2001, and quicker to learn what we teach them. That is why we’re hopeful,” said Verbeek. “We have had countless mistakes in 2001. Now we are free of such trial and error in preparing for the World Cup. We have good chemistry with Dick Advocaat as the manager, Afshin Ghotbi, our analyzer who knows Korean football very well, and coach Hong Myong-bo. Although we don’t have much time for training, we are certain that we will surprise the world once again.”

Last year, Verbeek visited Hong Myong-bo in Los Angeles, where Hong was playing for the L.A. Galaxy. At the time of the visit, Verbeek told Hong that he would look forward to working with him if the opportunity arose. Verbeek had noticed Hong’s ability to win over other player’s hearts. As soon as he was hired as the coach of the national team, Verbeek gave Hong a call and asked for his help.

“The most efficient way to evaluate the players is through a match against a strong team. Players learn and mature from the mistakes they make against strong opponents,” he says. He took Kim Nam-il and Song Chong-gug as an example. Both players made many mistakes in Korea’s 0-5 defeat against the Czech Republic in August 2001, and went on to play world-class quality soccer the next year. “Just like Kim and Song were back then, young players like Lee Ho and Cho Won-hee will become the stars of next World Cup.”

In 2002, Verbeek declared that he and Guss Hiddink would eat live octopus if Korea wins the World Cup. Verbeek likes to pay for other people’s meals, defying the term, “going Dutch.” This Dutchman might have to pay for a round of tasty live octopus next year.

Jong-Koo Yang yjongk@donga.com