January 24, 2011 09:08
Korea defeated Iran in the quarterfinal of the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar on Sunday, but it is still too early for them to celebrate. Perennial rival Japan is waiting next, in a semifinal match that will be all about national pride.
Korea's 1-0 victory on Sunday, thanks to a game-winner in extra time by Yoon Bit-garam, was the first win against Iran since October 2005.
On Tuesday Korea will take on Japan, who advanced to the semifinal by beating Qatar 3-2 on Saturday. Physical strength will be a key factor in this showdown. Team Korea endured 120 minutes of nail-biting action in the quarterfinal and has only two days to recover, while Japan has three days. To help the team rest up, coach Cho Kwang-rae decided to dismiss practice for a day.
Captain Park Ji-sung led the team to victory with his unyielding spirit. The Manchester United midfielder injured his right cheekbone in a collision with Iran's Gholamreza Rezaei in the 16th minute, but he continued to play hard. His reward will be entry into the FIFA Century Club as the semifinal against Japan on Tuesday will be his 100th international match since his national team debut in April 2000.
"I won't put too much meaning to the fact that it'll be my 100th match. It's the semifinal and against Japan, and that will make the match very interesting," Park said. "We will do our best to win the game and advance to the final." He did not comment on rumors that he may retire from the national team after the Asian Cup.
In the other half of the tournament, Australia and Uzbekistan will fight for a berth in the final. Australia beat Iraq in the quarterfinal 1-0, and Uzbekistan won over Jordan 2-1. It is the first time that an Asian Cup semifinal will feature no Middle Eastern team since they joined the Cup in 1968.
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