South Korea coach Hong Myung-bo remains quietly confident that his side can surprise their higher-ranked World Cup opponents in Brazil and secure a berth in the knockout stage despite a low-key build-up to the finals.
South Korea’s best showing in the tournament was a fourth-place finish on home soil in 2002 and although they reached the last 16 in South Africa four years ago, expectations have been lowered since last week’s 1-0 friendly home loss to Tunisia.
The Koreans, ranked 55 in the world, are training in Miami before they begin their campaign in Brazil, where they will face Russia (June 17), Algeria (June 22) and Belgium (June 26) in Group H.
“I know I’ve never talked about our goal, and to be honest, it is to make it out of the group stage,” Hong was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency from the team’s training camp.
“Once past that stage, no one can predict what can transpire. First and foremost, our objective is to advance past the group phase,” he added.
“I don’t know what our players are trying to accomplish. I think there will come a time in the coming days when I get to find out.”
The former defender, who captained the side that reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2002, has put his players through a physically demanding training camp in Florida and believes his squad can gain motivation from being overlooked by their rivals.
“I actually like it that the other teams aren’t paying attention to us,” he said. “But when we trained in the United States in January, they sent some advance scouts to watch us. So I don’t think they will just sit idly by.”
Hong remains happy with South Korea’s preparations for Brazil and expects his squad to be peaking at the right time.
“Our goal in Miami was to try to improve agility and power necessary to compete at a high level,” said Hong, who played at four consecutive World Cups from 1990. “So far, things have gone well.”
Hong’s men will depart for Brazil after they play their final pre-World Cup friendly against Ghana in Miami on Monday.
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