Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung overcame stunted growth as a child and lived on a diet of frog stew to become one of Asia's most respected athletes. Now he hopes to encourage young Vietnamese children to follow their dreams by hosting the inaugural Doosan Asian Dream Cup on Wednesday in Ho Chi Minh City.
"I would like to give inspiration to all of those children of Vietnam who dream of becoming a soccer player, and to let them know that they too can become great players," Park said when asked about the maiden project of his charity-based JS Foundation.
Vietnam's divided history is one of the reasons why he chose it to host the event, which will feature world-class soccer players from the continent, the former captain of Korea's national side said during a press conference at Incheon International Airport on Monday.
"I have heard that soccer is very popular in Vietnam. One of the reasons why we chose Vietnam as the site of our first charity project is because of the way in which the country has also had this tragic experience in its history of being torn in two," he said before boarding a plane for Ho Chi Minh. The game will kick off in the city's Thong Nhat Stadium at 8 p.m. (Korean time).
The JS Friends' team is made up of Park and former or current national teammates Park Chu-young, Lee Chung-yong, Ki Sung-Yueng, Lee Young-pyo and Jung Jo-gook. Hidetoshi Nakata and Daisuke Matsui of Japan and Li Weifeng of China also join the side, which will be coached by Yoo Sang-chul, a bulwark of the Korean national team from 1994 to 2005. They will face Navibank Saigon FC in Vietnam's first league.
Park said he was originally hoping to be joined by one of his Manchester teammates, but that national duty got in the way. "Unfortunately my friend and teammate Patrice Evra cannot participate due to the schedule of the French national team," he said.
United coach Sir Alex Ferguson sent words of support and encouragement through a video message. "I would like to say that Ji-sung is a fantastic professional. He has a real caring heart. Whatever he is going to achieve out there, I hope he finds he enjoys it," he said, before praising his attacking midfielder's "fantastic contribution to the welfare of others."
"You [Park] are fantastic that way. Have a good day, all the success," Ferguson added.