August 09, 2012 11:16
Korea's Olympic football team has resolved to bounce back after losing to Brazil in the semifinal of the 2012 London Olympics, with a firm eye now fixed on their bronze-medal clash with Japan early Saturday morning (Korean time) at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
The semifinal matches were disappointing for both Korea and Japan. Korea lost to Brazil 3-0 at Old Trafford in Manchester on Wednesday, surrendering goals to Romulo and Leandro Damiao. Japan lost to Mexico 3-1, despite having an early lead.
The Korean team has just one step to go towards its goal of winning a first-ever Olympic medal in the sport. Up until now, the country's best result at the Games was making the quarterfinals in 1948 and 2004. Despite having already set a new benchmark in London for future Korean teams to aspire to, however, the players are hungry for more.
A strong motivation to grab bronze is that doing so would automatically exempt them from 21 months of mandatory military duty. All 18 members of the squad, including Park Chu-young, who was embroiled in a huge controversy for postponing his military service by obtaining long-term residency in Monaco, have yet to serve their national duty.
Korea has performed poorly against Japan recently. According to Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, "We feel some pressure at having to play Japan, but if we win, I think we'll be as happy as if we had won the gold."
Japan will do its best to reenact the glory of the 1968 Mexico Olympics, where it finished in third place. Japan was considered a gold-medal contender in London until it drew blanks against Mexico in their semifinal clash. Prior to that match, the Asian side had scored five goals and given away none in its previous four matches. But the Japanese players ran out of steam against Mexico and crumbled in the latter part of the match.
The Japanese squad closely resembles the team that won the title at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, and is known for being well-organized with sound tactics. Korean defender Kim Young-gwon said, "Japan is better as a team than if you look at the individual players." Of 18 players on its roster, 12 play in the J-League and five in Germany's Bundesliga. Their top attackers are Yuki Otsu, who plays for Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany, and Kensuke Nagai of Nagoya Grampus in Japan. Yuki has scored three goals in London, and Kensuke two.
But Japan is short of players who ply their trade in other leagues as their respective clubs refused to let them compete in the Olympics. Shinji Kagawa, a 23-year-old footballer who recently joined Manchester United, was unable to come, while neither Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow) nor Atsuto Uchida (FC Schalke in Germany) were chosen as wild card entrees. Captain Maya Yoshida (VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands) is the only player who is a regular starting member in the national team.
On the other hand, Korea has a number of players who are key components of the national team, such as Ki, Koo Ja-cheol and Kim Bo-kyung. Korea is generally thought to have a superior midfield, with great passing plays centering around Koo and Ki, but its problem is converting chances into goals. Korea has scored just three goals in five games so far. In order to win a bronze, however, goals must be forthcoming.
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