South Korea v Ivory Coast, International Friendly, March 3, 2010
Two nations hoping to do well in South Africa later this summer come face-to-face on Wednesday at Loftus Road in London, as Queen Park Rangers’ open up their ground for a tasty match-up between South Korea and the Ivory Coast.
For both teams, the attractions of playing each other are obvious.
The Ivory Coast have been placed in World Cup’s “the group of death.” This may mean tough tests against Brazil and Portugal, but it also means a game against North Korea that must be won if a place is to be had in the second round. The African team assumes, not unreasonably, that the best way to practice playing against North Korea is to play against southern neighbours. (The Ivory Coast are 20/21 to qualify their World Cup group.)
For the South Koreans, it is all about the preparing for the test Nigeria pose in South Africa. The Super Eagles are the final test for the Taeguk Warriors in the group stages, with Greece and Argentina up first. The Koreans appear to building their campaign on the hope that come the Nigeria match, a victory will see them qualify to the last 16. Accordingly, it could be a crucial final group game in Durban, and so taking on the Ivorians now seems like ideal preparation for the challenge facing them in June. (South Korea are 13/5 to qualify their World Cup group.)
Much attention in Seoul will be focused on how Korea’s delicate defense copes with the physically powerful Ivorians. A historic 3-0 defeat at the hands of China last month saw coach Huh Jung-moo come under a barrage of criticism from fans as his team simply crumbled at the back. Huh has selected largely the same defenders for the much tougher test on offer on Wednesday and the likes of Kang Min-soo, Cho Yong-hyong and Kwak Tae-hwi have much to prove, particularly with regards to their ability to handle the aerial threat of opposing teams. (South Korea are 13/5 to keep a clean sheet.)
A good performance against Didier Drogba will go a long way to silencing their boo-boys back home. Drogba’s Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou needs to be watched too, though the tricky Gervinho misses out through injury. Elsewhere, the African team boasts one of the best looking squads in world football – on paper at least – with the Toure brothers, Emmanuel Eboue, Didier Zokora, Abdul Kader Keita, Bakary Kone to choose from.
Korea, though, are not without their own European stars. Manchester United’s Park Ji-sung will captain the team and will line up with Bolton Wanderers winger Lee Chung-yong and Celtic’s Ki Sung-yong across the midfield. AS Monaco striker Park Chu-young, who has been in fine form this season and has established himself as one of the leading attackers in the French league, is the major absentee through injury.
As expected, coach Huh has recall local hero Ahn Jung-hwan, who was made famous by his injury time goal that knock out the Azzurri from the 2002 World Cup. The striker, now 34, hasn’t featured for the national team since June 2008 but is now back in the national team set-up and in serious contention for the finals in South Africa.
While South Korea definitely have their on-the-field issues to tend to, the Ivory Coast threaten to have their World Cup preparations spoiled by their off-the-field turmoil. (7/5 to be over 2.5 goals.)
Instead of focusing on improving the Elephants after their unconvincing performance at the African Cup of Nations at the start of the year in Angola, the Ivory Coast have risked internal strife by only choosing this week to sack their much-vaunted Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic. According to reports, a furious Halilhodzic said he had learned of his fate by fax on Saturday as has since been quoted saying “It’s terrible, I’m disgusted. I lose one game in 24 matches and now I have been sacrificed. It’s purely political.”
101gg predicts: South Korea 2 – Ivory Coast 1 (12/1)
Full match odds here.