Just as sobering as the opening game defeat at the hands of the United Arab Emirates is the realization that although the month of March has yet to arrive, the bulk of South Korea's World Cup preparations are over, in terms of tests against other nations at least.
The Taeguk Warriors have spent the five weeks enjoying considerably warmer weather than their freezing friends, families and fans in Northeast Asia. However, in case there is any bitterness from those left behind, the 22 players that left Incheon International Airport on Jan. 15 haven't been idle, as they have trained, trained and trained again, on top of playing nine games.
As the players jetted off to Dubai, Coach Dick Advocaat stressed that performances were more important than results, a statement oft-repeated by coaches but largely ignored by journalists.
Both performance and result were poor in the defeat in the UAE, Korea's first game and first defeat of 2006. It was also the first time that the Dutch coach had returned to the Gulf State since leaving the post of national team coach in September to take over in Seoul.
Advocaat's return wasn't a happy one, and the only vaguely positive aspect of the occasion was the fact that there were eight games remaining in which to get into gear.
Another first was the Dutchman's taste of defeat as Korean coach, and despite his "performances matter" mantra, he didn't like it. "Training or not, we still feel bad about losing. Let us do our best not to feel this way again," he told his troops before a more daunting date with European champions Greece in Saudi Arabia three days later.
TV viewers tuning in back home were confronted with a new-look four-man defense, a quivering quartet that looked all at sea in the first half as Greece threatened to run away with the game. Fortunately young striker Park Chu Young headed home an equalizer to settle the team down and produce a much better second-half performance.
The first win of the tour came against a Finland team, one that like Korea and most national teams playing at the moment was missing its overseas stars. It was Park who made the difference again with a lovely free kick just after halftime.
With a third of the tour over, progress was being made. The defense was becoming more organized, and while possession wasn't exactly leading to a feast of goals, chances were being created.
After a successful stay in Saudi Arabia, next on the itinerary was Hong Kong and participation in the four-nation Carlsberg Cup. The "semi-final" produced the best performance of the tour until that point, with a fine 2-0 win over a highly rated Croatia team.
The Croatians may have been understrength, but were overwhelmed by a quick and aggressive Korean team. A 35-meter strike from the improving Kim Dong Jin and a beautifully simple goal from 2005 K-League MVP Lee Chun Soo gave the vociferous Korean contingent in the former British colony much to shout about.
It was a confident team that met a powerful Denmark, and the game started well as Jo Jae Jin headed home after 15 minutes. The Asians controlled the rest of the half until the last minute when "Triple J's" goal was canceled out. The second period saw the Danes dominate the game, scoring twice more. The 3-1 defeat didn't flatter the Scandinavians, who gave their opponents a lesson on how to convert possession into chances and then into goals.
There was plenty of time to dwell on the Danish defeat on the long flight to Los Angeles and the American leg of the 2006 Korean World tour. It started with an unofficial behind-closed-doors 2-1 victory over the US national team in Carson, California.
For fans not allowed in the stadium, the most exciting part of the proceedings was the sight of Korean reporters and cameramen trying to set up across the street and the fact that the game was played in three "thirds" of 30 minutes each. For the record (though the game will not appear on any), Kim Jin Kyu and Jung Jo Gook got the goals.
A date with LA Galaxy was next in the Major League team's Los Angeles home. South Korea's assistant coach and former captain Hong Myong Bo spent two seasons starring for the Galaxy after the World Cup, and the 37 year-old had a happy return to his old stomping grounds as the Taeguk Warriors won 3-0. Still, the value of playing an average US club side missing its best players in an average league is questionable.
Costa Rica provided the next, much tougher task, a few hundreds kilometers to the north -- Oakland Coliseum Stadium to be precise. "The Ticos" are undergoing their own preparations for Germany 2006, and upset Advocaat's team with a 1-0 win. This time it really was a case of performances outranking result. The Asian team dominated from start to finish and was unlucky to lose. The main concern was still the team's inability to convert chances into goals.
That worry still remains, even after the victory over the team ranked sixth in the world -- Mexico. A win against the Tricolores in the Americas is never to be sneezed at, and South Korea was superior in all departments; but again, despite dominating, a host of chances went begging. The only goal came from a calamitous goalkeeping mistake by the Mexican goalkeeper. If South Korea had a real goal scorer, then the second round would be the minimum objective in Germany. But such predators are hard to find.
The tour proved to be satisfactory, with enough wins to suggest that Korea is heading in the right direction and enough defeats to concentrate minds on the job ahead.
2006/02/17 오후 1:07
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