Monday, 7 June 2010


Tim Alper writes for Best 11, a South Korean monthly football magazine, and is a producer for tbs eFM, South Korea's only English-language radio station. He will be producing the 2010 World Cup Update show for the station.

What is the mood in South Korea now with the team's opening match against Greece just five days away?

It's close to fever pitch out here. The World Cup has been a huge deal in South Korea ever since they co-hosted it back in 2002. Just about every major square and sports stadium in Seoul has been decked out with massive TV screens, and people are set to go wild with excitement here. Korea is a pretty exciting place to be when the World Cup rolls around.

Has the Korean Football Association set any particular target for the team at South Africa 2010?

I am not aware that they have. However, the public perception is that, after the disappointment of 2006, when they were knocked out in the group stages, reaching the second round would be a massive achievement. I don't think anyone dares dream of getting further that that.

The level of expectation amongst the fans was clearly very high four years ago following the amazing run to the semi-final on home soil in 2002. Has the sobering experience of Germany 2006 tempered expectations this time?

Certainly. South Korean fans are pretty realistic. They know that 2002 was not a template for future success, it was just one glorious moment in Korean sporting history. But this time, they just want the team to make a real fist of it, and push for the round of 16.

Who do you think are the two most important players for South Korea as this World Cup?

It's hard to narrow it down to two, South Korea's squad in 2010 is quite possibly the best squad they have ever sent to a World Cup. I would say watch out for Celtic's Ki Seung-Young, he is one of the most creative players Korea have in their side. Also, a lot of responsibility lies in the hands of their veteran goalkeeper, Lee Woon-Jae. It either of these players underperform, South Korea will struggle.

The balance of South Korea's group (Group B) is perfect on paper as it contains four teams from four different confederations. Do you think the Korean team is more suited to playing teams from a particular confederation?

If the World Cup were being played anywhere but Africa, I'd say African teams. A lot of teams from Africa see South Korean players as lightweights who they can muscle off the ball easily. But where a lot of teams that play against South Korea come undone is when it comes to underestimating the energy levels of East Asian sides. I doubt there are many sides that can outdo Korea when it comes to basic fitness. A lot of the time, African sides play at really high tempo and run out of steam in the final third of the game. If it weren't for the 'home advantage' of playing in Africa, I'd say that sides like Nigeria, who South Korea will be playing against, would be perfect opponents.

On paper the most difficult of the three group matches looks to be the middle one against Argentina. How important do you think the order in which you play the teams in your group is?

I don't think it makes much difference. South Korea will be going out to win all three, though personally, if I were Huh Jong-Moo, I'd want an early crack at Argentina. Player for player, they look frightening, but I don't think Maradona has the coaching skills or the tactical nous to win them the World Cup.

So, how far do you think South Korea will go?

I would say the second round is realistic. As long as they can take a point or more from their first game, I think they'll do it. If they lose against Greece, they may struggle to qualify.

Looking at the tournament as a whole, which four teams would you expect to reach the semi-finals?

England, Germany, Brazil, Italy.

And the winners?

It's tough to say, as this is the first ever African World Cup. I think it might come down to team spirit and self-belief, and Germany or Italy have those qualities in spades. Spain are easily the best side, if you look at their squad, but I think they may get vertigo when they get to the later rounds. You have to remember that before they triumphed at EURO 2008, they were labelled along with the Dutch as perennial bottlers. I can see the wheels coming off if they go a goal behind against a big, confident side like the Brazilians or the Italians.

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