Korea put up a solid fight but was eliminated in the round of 16 in the World Cup on early Sunday morning, when Uruguay beat Korea 2-1. But the team made great strides in South Africa, reaching the second round for the first time on foreign soil.
Although Lee Chung-yong equalized the match 23 minutes into the second half, Korea surrendered to the winning goal 12 minutes later. But Korea’s confident play against football powerhouse Uruguay impressed fans all over the world and went some way to saving the face of Asian football. Only a decade ago playing against Korea meant a guaranteed victory for the opponents, but no longer.
Korea's offense was in the top group among the 32 teams in the World Cup. It scored an average of 1.5 goals per game, with six goals in four games, ranking sixth after 50 games played as of Monday. Korea scored four goals in set-piece situations such as free kick or corner kick where a ball is not moving -- first among the 32 teams. Korea also recorded an average of 12.75 attacks per game, ranking 11th.
However, the story is different when it comes to defense. Korea allowed six goals in three games at the group stage, second only to North Korea's 12.
Experts say that systematic nurturing and managing of the players is essential to prepare for the next World Cup in Brazil in 2014. It is highly likely that the key players behind the success of the 2002 -- captain Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo, Ahn Jung-hwan, Kim Nam-il and Lee Woon-jae -- will retire by then, which means that Korean football has to break out of the shadow of 2002, when it made it to the quarterfinals.
Park Chu-young, who displayed potential as striker, and World Cup rookies Lee Chung-yong and Ki Sung-yueng will be at the core of the new generation. However, experts say that without efforts to discover and train potential replacements for Park Ji-sung or Lee Young-pyo, Korea will not stand a chance next time.
First of all, there is the problem of nurturing good defenders. In Korea, players with good defensive skills are rare. Most of defenders end up taking position under inevitable circumstances or when they lose in competition for offensive positions. They mostly want to play attacking midfielder or forward positions until middle or high school. "We should nurture players with good defensive skills from an early age," said Choi Kang-hee, manager of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Although Korea's offensive skills improved, it still lacks something. The fact that the team scored many set-piece goals conversely means that it was unable to produce field goals. In the end, more attackers will have to make inroads into the European League and grow through fierce competition.
The importance of qualitative improvement of Korea's K-League cannot be stressed enough. The future of Koran football is dim unless the K-League, which is the lifeline for many of the key players in the national team, finds way to develop further.