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Korea aims to leave on high note

Park, Lee hint at retirement from national squad


South Korean manager Cho Kwang-rae has stressed he is determined to keep his squad to playing their best football on Friday night against Uzbekistan, despite a heartbreaking loss to Japan only three days earlier in the Asian Cup semifinals.

Cho was left crestfallen after watching his side lose 3-0 to its archrival in a penalty shootout, following a 2-2 extra-time draw on Tuesday.

The result not only blew Korea’s chances of reaching the final, but also ended any hopes of reclaiming its status as the leader of Asian football.

The 56-year-old manager had promised before the tournament that he would help Korea win the Asian Cup title for the first time since 1960, only to be proved wrong.

But Korea, before heading home, plays one last game against Uzbekistan, which was derailed 6-0 by Australia in the other semifinal, in Friday’s third-place playoff.

Korea must beat Uzbekistan not only to erase the bitter memories of Tuesday’s defeat but also to secure automatic qualification at the next tournament. The top three of the competition in Qatar will receive direct tickets to the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.

The match has extra special meaning as this might be the last time to watch Park Ji-sung playing in the national team jersey.
Park Ji-sung may be playing in their final national team match. (Yonhap News)
Park Ji-sung may be playing in their final national team match. (Yonhap News)

The Manchester United midfielder had hinted earlier that he would retire from international football at the end of the competition in order to prolong his career in the world’s top league.

Park’s long-time teammate Lee Young-pyo has also hinted at retirement from the national team. “I will talk about it after the Asian Cup, but I’ve already made up my mind,” Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal defender Lee told reporters after Tuesday’s game. 
Lee Young-pyo may be playing in their final national team match. (Yonhap News)
Lee Young-pyo may be playing in their final national team match. (Yonhap News)

The pair, who played together for the Dutch side PSV Eindhoven before both moving to English Premier League, has been outstanding for the national team for the past decade.

They helped Korea reach the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup and also make it into the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup.

There is no doubt that the veterans’ departure will leave a huge void in the national team. But, when asked about the issue, Cho said that he would respect the players’ wishes and their future careers.

How will Cho manage the team without his best midfielder and best defender? The question is being debated in the local media. It seems, however, Cho has already found the answer. The hard-nosed manager brought six players from the U23 team, including Ji Dong-won, Koo Ja-cheol and 19-year-old Son Heung-min to his 23-man squad for the Asian Cup.

And much to the delight of the manager, the young guns have been remarkable throughout the competition. Jeju United midfielder Koo scored four goals in the last five matches.

Cho is viewed to be bringing in youngsters as preparation for the 2014 World Cup. But before looking at the bigger picture, he will have to prove himself one more time on Friday night.

Korea plays against Uzbekistan at Al-Sadd Stadium in Qatar on Friday night at 12 a.m., Korean time.

By Oh Kyu-wook (596story@heraldcorp.com)
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