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Will S. Korea Shine or Stumble in 2010 World Cup?

Posted December. 07, 2009 08:45,   


South Korea might have avoided the “group of death” in next year’s World Cup soccer finals, but will find it tough to advance to the second round.

Argentina, Nigeria and Greece are the three teams in Group B with the Taegeuk Warriors, and none of them are easy targets. Hence, South Korea will face an uphill battle to advance to the round of 16.

This is an analysis of the grouping draws for the World Cup Saturday.

○ S. Korea can be neither pessimistic nor optimistic

Experts say the perception that South Korea is lucky to face Greece is incorrect. The Euro 2004 champion did not qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and failed to make it out of the group stage in Euro 2008, but should not be underestimated, pundits say.

Korea has beaten and drawn with Greece in two meetings. Yet Greece ranked second after Switzerland in the World Cup’s European qualifiers to secure a berth. The Greeks rank 12th in the FIFA world rankings, far higher than Korea (52nd).

Objectively, Korea’s power ranking is last in Group B after Argentina (eighth in the world), Nigeria (22nd), and Greece.

Two-time World Cup champion Argentina is one of the two pillars in Latin American soccer with Brazil. Under erratic coach Diego Maradona, Argentina struggled to qualify for South Africa but has many talented players, including Lionel Messi, one of the world`s best players.

Since losing 3-1 to the Argentines in a group game of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, South Korea has lost three and drawn one with the South American giant.

Nigeria advanced to next year’s World Cup with no loss, winning three and drawing three in the process. South Korea has won twice and drawn once with the Africans, which could serve as a glimmer of hope.

Kim Ho, former coach of the South Korean pro team Daejeon Citizen, said, “Some people tend to underestimate Greece more than Nigeria, but Greece could prove a tougher rival.”

“German coach Otto Rehhagel has led Greece for nine years and is well versed with player characteristics.”

Kim Hak-beom, former coach of the South Korean pro team Seongnam Ilhwa, added, “We can hardly single out a team that is sure to win. In the 2006 World Cup in Germany, we tied France but lost 2-0 to Switzerland, a team that we thought we could be a match. Greece might not be the strongest team, but we cannot afford to underestimate it.”

“Nevertheless, it is not an insurmountable mountain. If we coolly analyze and carefully prepare ourselves, we could advance to the round of 16.”

Korea will play Greece on the evening of June 12 next year in its first Group B match at Nelson Mandela Stadium. The second game is against Argentina at Johannesburg Soccer City Stadium June 17 and the third is against Nigeria at Durban Stadium June 23.

○ N. Korea, Japan in “groups of death”

North Korea, however, faces a more difficult situation than South Korea. The communist country is in Group G with five-time World Cup winner Brazil; Cote d’Ivoire, which easily qualified for South Africa; and Portugal, a European powerhouse that rallied to beat the North 5-3 in the quarterfinals of the 1966 World Cup in England.

Japan will play in Group E along with the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon.

○ France, England in easier groups

Germany is expected to have an easy time getting out of Group D, which has Australia, Serbia, and Ghana.

France, which advanced to the finals thanks to Thierry Henry’s maligned handball, will also have a relatively time in Group A. It will face host South Africa, Uruguay and Mexico.

England will also play the relatively weaker teams of the U.S., Algeria and Slovenia, and stands a high chance of advancing to the second round.