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Coach Hong Breaks Down World Cup Run

Posted June. 30, 2006 03:25,   


Hong Myeong-bo (37), who has played in the World Cup 4 times as a soccer player, led the Korean national soccer team as a coach in the 2006 Germany World Cup. We asked to hear World Cup stories.

On June 29, we met coach Hong at a restaurant in Apgujeong-dong, Seoul. His first words were “I am dejected.”

Hong said, “I’m sorry we failed to reach our goal of advancing to the Round of 16. Especially to the people of Korea, who stayed up to cheer our team on in the early hours of the morning. It was my first time as a coach in the World Cup, so I made lots of preparations. I am upset, and my mind feels blank.”

Hong said that the past 9 months as coach was a very special time for him. The most difficult task was picking the starting players.

“The day before a match Dick Advocaat and the coaching staff hold a meeting. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each player. We take into consideration the opposing defense players’ characteristics, height, build, and technique. I was unaccustomed to the method in the beginning, but soon I was contributing my opinions to the discussion. The day before the match against Togo, we had a meeting that lasted 3~4 hours after breakfast.”

The highlight of that discussion was deciding whether to use Ahn Jeong-hwan or Jo Jae-jin as a starter.

“Advocaat wanted Ahn, but the coaching staff insisted on Jo. If Ahn started in the game, and couldn’t get past the defense, we would have no alternative. We thought it would be most effective to send in Ahn in the second half, when Togo’s defense would be weaker. Advocaat was convinced later on.”

The happiest moment in the World Cup was when Korea gained its first victory against Togo.

“Our players were too nervous in the first half. You freeze up during an important task: that’s what our players were experiencing. Advocaat encouraged our players at half time, and told them that there were still 45 minutes left and lots of opportunities. Fortunately the players found their rhythm in the second half.

What would be the reason behind winning a comeback victory against Togo and tying with France?

Hong said, “Experience. The 2002 World Cup experience was important to Lee Cheon-su and Ahn Jeong-hwan. Park Ji-seong plays in Europe and has a lot of experience, so he played well.”

He confessed that he was very worried when Korea lost a goal during the France match. “I kept thinking of the time we lost 0-5. But our players didn’t give up and concentrated on the match to tie the game. Korean soccer has improved.”

Hong said “What do you think the difference would be between France and Korea?”

“It’s individual technique. Then is it physical strength? No. Koreans are actually better at that. But the French players have better technique. Look at the Spain vs. France match. France is skilled so they have more opportunities to score goals.”

He said, “Advocaat wanted a player who was not just strong, but a player who really knew how to play soccer.”

He said that the most urgent task for the development of Korean soccer is to attract more audiences to the Korean soccer league matches. His calm voice started to rise. “You see the empty bleachers at the stadium, and you really don’t want to play. The games can’t be exciting. The teams need to attract the audience, by doing whatever they can, marketing, or going to the people directly. If the coach is responsible for the team’s track record, the team and the owner should be responsible for attracting the spectators.”

On his future plans, he emphasized “I am still young. I am still young so I want to try different things. Whether I am suited or not for a position boils down to whether I am capable. So this kind of experience is important.”

We asked “we hear you will be the head coach of the national team in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.” He denied it hurriedly.

“No, no. Not anyone can become a World Cup team head coach. And the coach can’t be decided on so early in advance. The head coach needs that much skill to qualify as coach.”

Hong will be in the advanced leadership program in National Football team Training Center (NFC) in Paju, Gyeonggi Province from July 3 for four weeks.

Jae-Yun Jung jaeyuna@donga.com