With just 100 days until the 2014 World Cup kicks off, a friendly between Korea and Greece will serve as a crucial litmus test to gauge how ready the domestic side is for their campaign in Brazil.
Manager Hong Myung-bo has summoned most of the players in the European leagues for the tune-up, including Koo Ja-cheol of Germany's Mainz, and Ki Sung-yueng of Sunderland and Lee Chung-yong of Bolton Wanderers, both in England. As such, Hong has marshaled most of his best resources. The match is set to take place in Athens on Wednesday.
The Korean team has not made a flying start to the year. During their recent overseas training camp in the U.S. in January and February, they beat Costa Rica 1-0, but lost 4-0 to Mexico and 2-0 to the U.S. However, the lineup consisted mostly of players from the domestic K-league.
If the players from the European leagues do not step up in Greece, Hong will be hard pushed to find a way to mold the team into fighting form in time for the World Cup.
He has already made a statement by including Park Chu-young on the roster, despite the player still struggling to get playing time after moving to Watford from Arsenal on loan. Hong is taking a gamble on Park, as the manager has previously said he would only choose players who are playing consistently at club level. So if Park struggles against Greece, Hong will face even more criticism for breaking his golden rule.
"I know this match against Greece is the last chance to test the readiness of Korean players before the World Cup," Park said after a team training session on Tuesday.
Koo Ja-cheol, who has been ruled out of international duty for a while due to injury, will be looking to prove he still has what it takes. He said he was further motivated to do well after hearing that his wife delivered a baby boy while he was on the road to the training base in Athens.
Greece is ranked 12th in the world by FIFA, much higher than Korea at No. 61. The European outfit boasts strong defensive skills, allowing just four goals and scoring 12 in 10 games in the European preliminaries for the World Cup. Further testament to the stinginess of its defense, it kept a clean sheet in eight of the games.