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South Korea Republic World Cup fans have high expectations for national soccer team

South Korean soccer fans hope for success at this year's games to prove their 2002 upset wasn't a fluke.

Fans carry a large South Korean flag over their heads in Seoul, South Korea, during their national team's World Cup match against Switzerland in Germany on June 24, 2006. (You Sung-ho/Reuters)

South Korea World Cup Team Statistics: Group B

Status: Advance to round 2, knocked out of quarterfinals

World Ranking: 47

World Cup 2010 Results: 1-2-1

Total goals scored: 6

Total goals scored against: 7

South Korea World Cup Schedule: June 12 - Greece (2-0 win); June 17 - Argentina(1-4 loss); June 22 - Nigeria (2-2 draw); June 26 - Uruguay (1-2 loss).

South Korea World Cup Soccer 2010

South Korea has a powerful sports culture. Virtually every South Korean will watch the games from South Africa. The soccer team has already played a significant part in the nation’s campaign to surpass Japan as Asia’s preeminent sports power.

Surrounded by three countries — China, Japan, North Korea — that command far more attention, South Korea sees sports and, more to the point, victory in sports as the most effective way to extend the national brand. President Lee Myung-bak's “Global Korea” campaign is ambitious.

Read all of GlobalPost's World Cup 2010 coverage

Success in South Africa would demonstrate that the 2002 World Cup represented more than just home cooking, and it might boost the country’s chances when it competes with the United States to stage the 2022 World Cup.

South Korea World Cup History: South Korea is Asia’s most successful team, having now qualified for eight successive World Cups. However, it had never made it out of the first round until the 2002 World Cup it co-hosted with Japan. South Korea stunned the world by upsetting first Italy and then Spain to reach the semis.

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South Korea World Cup Conventional Wisdom: The 2002 World Cup success still resonates in South Korea. And though the team didn’t get out of the first round four years later, expectations at home remain sky high. Call it optimistic — some call it Pollyannaish — but Koreans expect nothing less than the round of 16 and many expect more. Outside South Korea, nobody thinks the second round is an overreach.

South Korea World Cup Team Coach: Huh Jung-moo

It has proved difficult to replace Guus Hiddink, the Dutch master and architect of South Korea’s brilliant 2002 Cup run. This is Huh’s third shot at the job. His previous two stints with the Reds ended badly, the latter after a flop at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. World Cup ’10 will reveal just how much Huh has learned over the past decade.

South Korea World Cup Team Strength: South Korean players are rightfully famous for their stamina. They are relentless chasers, always challenging their opponents’ possession. Despite being undersized, they are capable of playing a tough, physical game.

South Korea World Cup Team Weakness: South Korea, like so many of the World Cup finalists, has scoring woes. And an ankle injury suffered by Park Chu-young, one of the team’s most skilled offensive players, could make goals even harder to come by. While Park is scheduled to return to action just before the Cup, it may not matter if one of his chief weapons, speed, is curtailed.

South Korea World Cup Key Player: Park Ji-sung

At the Vancouver Winter Olympics Koreans celebrated the international coronation of Kim Yu-na, the figure-skating champion they revere as “Queen Yu-na.” The king’s reign, however, has been much longer. The 29-year-old Park has been the pride of the nation as its first breakout soccer star — first with PSV Eindhoven and the last five years in the game’s pantheon with Manchester United.

Park is a force of nature, always around the ball. Everything for South Korea will flow through him in the midfield. Success will likely depend on his ability to weave the other parts into a greater whole.

 

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