SEOUL (Reuters) – After 55 years without continental soccer success and on the back of a dire World Cup campaign in Brazil, all the talk in South Korea has been of a “Time for Change” in the build-up to the Asian Cup in January.
The Koreans, who last won the region’s showpiece tournament in 1960, arrive in Australia with a new coach, new faces and fresh legs hoping to show some of the sparkle that took them to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup on home soil.
However, Song Chong-gug, South Korea’s flying wingback from that 2002 Guus Hiddink-coached side, believes the Koreans have much rebuilding still to do and should view a third-place finish as success at the Jan. 9-31 Asian Cup.
“Of course, becoming champions would be the best result but we still haven’t found our best team and there’s a lot of instability, so I think the best we can do is to finish third,” Song, who now works as a television pundit, told Reuters.
“The reason we haven’t won it since 1960 is simply because we haven’t been good enough. If it was because of bad luck then at least we would have been reaching the final, but it’s nothing to do with luck.”
South Korea last reached the final in 1988, a poor run for a country that now boast players in some of Europe’s top leagues such as Son Heung-min at Bayer Leverkusen and Ki Sung-yueng at Swansea.
It will be the job of new coach Uli Stielike to guide the Koreans through a group that also features hosts Australia, Oman and Kuwait, and to get past other regional heavyweights such as Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran in the knockout stages.
Former German international Stielike has revitalised the squad with a more focused approach to positional discipline and encouraged a quicker, incisive style going forward, though their entire campaign will likely depend on tightening up at the back.
Their defensive failings were cruelly exposed in Brazil, where the Koreans failed to win a match and were humiliated by Algeria before exiting in the first round.
There has been a more solid look about the defence under Stielike but with only four games under his belt, the German has had little chance to see how his system and personnel handle the pressure of the big occasion.