Park eyes semi-final repeat

  • By: Damian Spellman, Press Association Sport, Port Elizabeth
  • Last Updated: June 25 2010, 15:54 BST

South Korea skipper Park Ji-sung is challenging his team-mates to write themselves into the history books by reaching the World Cup semi-finals.

Park Ji-sung - last-four target.

The Koreans, who did just that in their own country eight years ago, have reached the last 16 on foreign soil for the first time in South Africa, and face a tough task if they are to progress any further with in-form Uruguay standing in their way in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

However, Manchester United midfielder Park is convinced they can get past the South Americans and make a real fist of emulating the feat their compatriots achieved back in 2002.

"We ourselves don't have a clear conviction of how far we can go," he said.

"But in 2002, we made it to the semi-finals and I don't think that was just because it was on home ground.

"We will do our best to prove that was not the case."

Park, 29, made his name on the international stage eight years ago as the co-hosts, riding a wave of patriotic fervour, very nearly went all the way under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink before losing 1-0 to Germany in the semi-finals.

They failed to make it past the group stage at the 2006 finals in Germany, but they have gone one better this time around and are determined to embark upon another big adventure.

Some commentators believe the current team may be even stronger than the one which took such spectacular advantage of the comforts of home, although Park, who revealed he has received good luck messages from club boss Sir Alex Ferguson and his United team-mates, insists that can only be assessed once their tournament comes to an end.

He said: "I can't compare this team to the 2002 team. That was the best team in our history.

"But this 2010 team is improving and we have got through the first round of games.

"Shortly, at the end of the World Cup, we are going to compare the previous team with this one and hopefully then we can say we are better."

What is certain, however, is that the class of 2010 is widely travelled and has gained experience of football around the world, and Park is hopeful that will stand them in good stead.

"The biggest change is experience. In 2006, we already had some players playing in foreign leagues," he said.

"But this time around, we have a lot of players who have either played in European leagues or are currently playing there, and that in itself has been a great help for us."

South Korea opened their campaign with a 2-0 win over Greece at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the venue for tomorrow's game, and after a 4-1 thumping by Group B winners Argentina, drew 2-2 with Nigeria to secure the runners-up spot.

They have scored five goals to date, but conceded six, and coach Huh Jung-moo admits that is a concern with Uruguay yet to concede in the tournament.

"Uruguay have been very good in their defence, but although we may have let other teams score goals, we have also scored goals as well," he said.

"We have let in lots of goals, but we can make up for that by scoring twice every time we lose a goal.

"We are doing our best to work on that."

For all the optimism within the South Korean camp, they will go into the game as underdogs, but Huh will take some comfort from the plight of European heavyweights France and Germany.

"There are possibilities open to everyone. The ball is always round," he said.

"Italy and France, teams like that, can always lose, and unexpected teams can win."