MELBOURNE (AFP) – South Korea face a serious test of their title credentials when they take on Uzbekistan in the Asian Cup quarter-finals on Thursday with the White Wolves hungry for revenge.
The Koreans, looking to end 55 years of hurt in the region’s showcase tournament, broke Uzbek hearts by denying them a place at the 2014 World Cup by virtue of goal difference.
Failure to qualify for a first World Cup gives the former Soviet republic added incentive and Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov has promised the Group B runners-up will tear into their illustrious opponents in Melbourne.
“We always remember how that felt,” said Kasimov, whose team went on to lose a play-off to Jordan. “We want revenge and we promise to do everything we can to get it.”
Uzbekistan, Asian Cup semi-finalists in 2011, overpowered Saudi Arabia 3-1 to progress to the last eight, Sardor Rashidov scoring twice as Kasimov opted to rest captain Server Djeparov, and they will pose a serious threat to the Koreans.
South Korea coach Uli Stielike coaxed his team of walking wounded to top spot in Group A after beating hosts Australia 1-0 at the weekend, making it three wins out of three.
While their football has rarely hit the heights of South Korean teams past, notably the dynamic version which reached the 2002 World Cup semi-finals under Dutchman Guus Hiddink, Stielike’s team will be difficult to beat.
Shock call-up Lee Jeong-Hyeop’s sharp finish toppled the Aussies in a match largely dominated by the tournament hosts, South Korea displaying the technical nous to soak up pressure and strike on the break. Nevertheless, they last won the Asian title in 1960 — the year Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, won Olympic boxing gold and Elvis Presley returned from military duty in Germany.
“We had to show a winning mentality and the players showed this,” said Stielike, under pressure to avoid coming to a sticky end at the Asian Cup.
Injuries to winger Lee Chung-Yong, ruled out with a fractured shin, and attacking midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol with torn elbow ligaments have given the German selection headaches before their crunch game with a physical Uzbekistan side.
His squad were also hit by a flu bug, but unforgiving South Korea fans will expect nothing less than a victory after their World Cup quest flatlined last year.
The squad were pelted with toffee by angry fans on their return to Seoul — a traditional insult in the country, where “Go eat a toffee!” translates as a fruitier version of “Get lost!”