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Saturday, 22 June, 2002, 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK

Heroic Hiddink

By Nada Grkinic
BBC Sport Online

"Hiddink! Make our dream come true!"

This was the banner on display in South Korea's World Cup opener against Poland.

Guus Hiddink obliged and gave a football-crazy nation their first taste of World Cup success.

The 2-0 win over Poland was the South Koreans' first-ever victory in the competition and sparked countrywide celebrations.

"Hiddink for President!" soon followed as the sophisticated Dutchman masterminded the Koreans' passage to the second round and eliminated Portugal in the process.

There the tournament's co-hosts faced one of football's superpowers - Italy - and again they triumphed, courtesy of Ahn Jung-Hwan's golden goal.

Things could not get better for Hiddink's men or so they thought until they earned a semi-final spot after a nail-biting penalties win over Spain in the last 16.

The Koreans' World Cup odyssey has been aided by some rather fortunate refereeing decisions that have gone in their favour.

But to give that as a reason for their amazing run would do a disservice to the quite magnificent transformation of Korean football overseen by Hiddink since he took over at the end of 2000.

Hiddink's CV as a coach is an impressive one.

Hiddink factfile

  • Born: 08/11/1952
  • Birthplace: Wisch, Holland

  • Position: Midfielder
  • Club level: 1967-82

  • 1982: Begins coaching at De Graafschap
  • 1984-90: Has spells at PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahce (Turkey) and Valencia (Italy)
  • 1995: Becomes Dutch national team coach
  • 1998: Coaches at Real Madrid and Real Betis
  • 2000: Agrees to Korea national team job
  • He won three championships between 1985 and 1990 with PSV Eindhoven.

    He also won PSV's only European Cup in 1988, with his side embracing an attractive, attacking style, and has been linked with a return to the club at the conclusion of Korea's campaign.

    Hiddink left the Netherlands for Turkey and Fenerbache before going to Spanish side Valencia.

    Despite not winning anything, Hiddink's time in Spain saw him establish a firm friendship with Johann Cruyff and the pair would often discuss how best to play the game.

    Hiddink was given the opportunity to turn around the fortunes of the Dutch national team in 1996 in the hope that he would return them to their rightful place among football's elite.

    His no-nonsense attitude was a breath of fresh air for a team blighted by massive egos and he demonstrated his tough streak by sending star player Edgar Davids home following a bust-up with another player during Euro 96.

    The Dutch coach placed the emphasis firmly on team unity, a willingness to work for one another, a desire to win games by taking them to their opponents.

    Hiddink's preference for out-and-out wingers took the Dutch to within touching distance of a World Cup final in France 98, only to be denied in a penalty shoot-out defeat by Brazil in the semis.

    Holland's France 98 campaign also saw them trounce a feeble South Korea side 5-0 during the group stages, with Hiddink unaware that he would later be called upon to save the 2002 co-hosts from further humiliation.

    The decision to appoint a foreigner in the place of Huh Jung-Moo was received with the expected helping of suspicion in South Korea.

    A poor Confederations Cup in 2001 did not help Hiddink's cause, with a 5-0 mauling by world champions France a particular low-point.

    But that defeat marked a watershed for Hiddink. In preparation for the World Cup, he insisted that his side meet as often as possible and they did.

    The players spent the three months prior to start of the tournament together, and in that time Hiddink weaved his magic.

    Technically-gifted footballers were fine tuned into purposeful athletes.

    Hiddink imbued his side with his Dutch footballing values and imposed the now familiar 3-5-2 formation.

    The results which have been achieved in style speak for themselves and have pushed the South Koreans into a different stratosphere.

    And all because of Hiddink.

    He has now acquired virtual god-like status and to make sure he stays in such an elevated state Korean Air have promised the Dutchman free first-class travel whenever and wherever he wants for the next four years.

    Just the ticket.

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