Tough draw will deny South Korea a second World Cup fairytale
Their fourth place finish in 2002 remains one of the World Cup’s unlikeliest success stories, but such glory will prove beyond South Korea this year.
Manager Huh Jung-Moo has named his final 23-man squad, which includes three British-based players, Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung, Lee Chun-Yung of Bolton and Celtic’s Ki Sung-Yong.
South Korea will be far from whipping boys for their opponents – Argentina, Nigeria and Greece – but, without the home support they enjoyed in 2002, they will struggle.
They suffered a blip in their last friendly match, as a 1-0 loss to Belarus brought to a halt a four match unbeaten run which included a 2-0 win away to the Ivory Coast.
Despite this recent encouraging form, however, South Korea are still rank outsiders to win their group at 9/1.
They are taking a gamble on the fitness of former Middlesbrough striker Lee Dong-Guk, who has been named in the squad despite suffering from a thigh injury.
Lee, nicknamed ‘Lion King’, has had a mixed international career, as he was dropped by Guus Hiddink for the 2002 World Cup and missed the tournament four years later through injury.
It seems that the nation’s hopes will rest on their captain Park Ji-Sung, one of six survivors from the 2002 squad who reached the semi-finals.
Even with Park’s Champions League and international credentials, though, South Korea, who are 47th in Fifa’s world rankings, will find the task of repeating their 2002 success a bridge too far.