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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
South Korea come of age
South Korea coach Guus Hiddink
Hiddink (right) has transformed Korea's fortunes

South Korea came into the World Cup finals without a single victory to their name in five previous appearances.

The co-hosts' modest targets were to finally break their duck and avoid at all costs the embarrassment of being knocked out before rivals Japan.

Less than two weeks on, they have succeeded on both accounts - and perpetrated three of the biggest giantkillings the tournament has ever seen.

Having disposed of Poland, Portugal and Italy on their way to the last eight, the jubilant Koreans know that another upset against Spain would leave them one step away from the final.

Open Quote
Since March we have worked virtually every day and spent so much time together that we are like one big family
Close Quote
Guus Hiddink

It would be easy to credit their status as co-hosts - and the incredible passion of their home supporters - for the remarkable run.

Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni described the atmosphere in Daejeon's World Cup stadium on Tuesday as something he had not experienced in more than 50 years in the game.

Korean defender Kim Tae-Young admitted: "I think we got through because of the Korean supporters. And I'm sure we will go on to defeat Spain if they continue to give us their support."

The Korean fans, however, would prefer to hand the credit to their Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.

Streetwise

In his 18 months in charge the former PSV Eindhoven and Real Madrid boss has brought his considerable experience to bear on a completely different footballing culture.

Hiddink, who guided Holland to the World Cup semi-finals four years ago, was impressed by the stamina and attitude of his players.

South Korea celebrate their victory over Italy
Korea have been inspired by their fans' passion
But he knew they lacked experience on the international stage and set about trying to build an organised, streetwise unit.

His methods have been so successful that South Korea's corporate captains now analyse "the Hiddink way" to see if his football management tactics can be applied to industry.

And fans even displayed a tongue-in-cheek banner during the game in Daejeon which declared: "Hiddink for President".

"The Korean players have one big ability and that is they can learn and get to know the demands of international football," said Hiddink.

"They react very quickly, which they have proven.

"Our first aim was to be competitive at the World Cup and we have succeeded in doing that. The second was to win one match and we did that by beating Poland.

"Then we wanted to make the second round, which we have done, and now we are in the quarters.

"It is time to enjoy our accomplishments, but I want the players to be as greedy and hungry as they have been up until now."

Family affair

Hiddink had the advantage of spending several months with his players in the build-up to the finals.

While top European and South American stars were scrapping it out for club honours, he was putting his plans into practice on the training ground with fresh, largely Asian-based players.

Open Quote
I'd prefer to go all out to chase the win and risk going down 2-0 than know I hadn't tried everything
Close Quote
Guus Hiddink

He then made sure they got to test their tactics in warm-up games against Scotland (4-1), England (1-1) and defending champions France (2-3).

"Since March we have worked virtually every day and spent so much time together that we are like one big family," said Hiddink.

The benefits became clear when Korea beat Poland 2-0 in their opening game and finished as group winners with a brilliant 1-0 victory against Portugal.

The 2-1 win against Italy was not only a triumph for their never-say-die spirit, but also a vindication of Hiddink's positive approach.

As Italy introduced a defensive midfielder to protect their 1-0 lead, he went on the attack by throwing on veteran striker Hwang Sun-Hong - with stunning results.

"I'd prefer to go all out to chase the win and risk going down 2-0 than know I hadn't tried everything," admitted Hiddink.

North Korea disappeared off the international scene after their stunning 1-0 win against Italy in 1966, never to be seen again in the finals.

Judging by the exploits of Hiddink's side, it is hard to see South Korea going any other way but up.


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