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COACH HUH JUNG-MOO HAS A PROBLEM. HE LACKS THE GRAVITAS OF SOME OF HIS ILLUSTRIOUS FOREIGN PREDECESSORS, SUCH AS DICK ADVOCAAT AND GUUS HIDDINK (WHO MASTERMINDED South Korea's semifinal run in 2002), and he's all too familiar to the Korean public—this is his third stint in charge—which was crying out for someone a bit more exotic.
Having established itself as an Asian powerhouse, South Korea now has to build on that, but it will be difficult with a squad scattered over the globe and a manager who's often on the verge of crucifixion by media. Internal leadership is needed, together with the enthusiasm Hiddink was able to mine in 2002. Huh, however, has had his run-ins with veteran goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae, and this is an entirely different squad from the one that, in 2006, held eventual finalist France to a 1-1 draw. (Just three starters return from that team.) Huh is banking on a new generation to take the step up, but right now, it's a step too far.
Park Chu-young—who, with his matinee idol looks, is the South Korean Roberto Baggio—missed out on 2006 because of injury. Now the weight of expectation is on his shoulders. Creative and unpredictable, he will have to be the linchpin for old-school center forward Lee Dong-gook. Seol Ki-hyeon, another experienced target man who can also play wide, could contribute if he comes back from injury.
Captain Park Ji-sung leads by example. Nicknamed Three-Lung, he is a phenomenal athlete who covers lots of ground and brims with tactical intelligence. Kim Jung-woo and Kim Nam-il are there to shield the back line, though whether their presence will be enough remains a question mark. Lee Chung-yong, 22, is a superstar in the making.
Lee Won-jae has kept goal for South Korea for 16 years and lends experience to an unsteady defense. Lee Young-pyo, 35, has plenty of experience at left back but is showing signs of age. Cha Du-ri, the son of Cha Bum-kun, South Korea's greatest player, is not a patch on his old man. And the middle will see some combination of Cho Yong-hyung, Kwak Tae-hwi and Lee Jung-soo, none of whom have been impressive.
This team is weaker than in years past. To advance, South Korea must find the enthusiasm that carried it in 2002 and '06. It's hard to see that happening.