Sunday, 14 March 2010

WC2010: Whos Going? (Part 5)


Due to the lack of coverage that we have here of the Asian qualifying, Japan have been a bit of an unknown quantity for most football fans in Europe. Now qualifying for their fourth consecutive World Cup, they will be looking to improve on their Second Round exit in 2002, their best result so far.

Qualifying was fairly straightforward for the Samurai Blue, ending up in second place, losing only one game in the final qualifying group, brushing aside the likes of Bahrain, Qatar and Uzbekistan. I've not really managed to get a proper look at them during this qualifying campaign, but from what I've seen they do look very confident and ready to impress in South Africa. Also, as part of their World Cup warm-up schedule, they will play against England at the end of May, so I'm sure we will be able to watch that game here.

Japan are drawn into Group E alongside the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon. This is a really tricky group for them, will bring up some great matches.

Star Man: Shunsuke Nakamura

Since the retirement of Hidetoshi Nakata in 2006, there is now only one man who could ever be chosen as Japan's top player, Shunsuke Nakamura. A bit of a hero of mine thanks to his four years at Celtic, Naka is still capable of some real moments of magic. However at 31 years old, he isn't getting any younger and it's widely regarded that this will be his last World Cup.

His game is quite expansive, his off the ball movement is hard to beat, his vision to pick out the killer pass can bamboozle any defense, and of course he can take a mean free kick. He may be a bit past his best, but Naka still has the ability to light up any football game.

Player to Watch: Keisuke Honda

Currently, Japan seem to have a good number of young players starting to emerge onto the national scene, Honda is one player who has done just that. Capable of playing anywhere on the left-hand side, Honda possesses the talent that could really make him a big star.

After two successful seasons at VVV Venlo in Holland (scoring 24 goals in 68 appearences), Honda has now been snapped up by Russian giants CSKA Moscow and has already endeared himself to their fans by scoring a last minute winner in their match against Amkar Perm.

I do recommend you keep your eyes on Honda, if Japan are going to have any success this summer, then you can be sure Honda will play a big part in that.

Prediction: High hopes and a decent squad, but their group is just too tough, expect them to finish 3rd or 4th in Group E.


Definitely one of the most interesting qualifiers in this year's World Cup for several reasons, North Korea will be one of the nations everyone will want to see this Summer. Their one and only World Cup appearance prior to this was back in 1966, where they managed to stun the footballing world by reaching the Quarter Finals, where they were beaten by Eusebio's Portugal. What followed was 40 years of obscurity, with the national team rarely coming close to qualifying for any of the future Finals. However they managed to put up a good attempt in 2006, and now they have managed to go one better and secure qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

The phrase 'unknown quantity' is the only way to describe the DPRK national team for me. I haven't been able to watch many of their qualifiers, and honestly I don't know any of their squad, with the vast majority of their players playing in their home domestic league. Thanks to that, this section will be a bit shorter than for other nations. But hopefully I will be able to remedy that soon, with them taking part in this year's Kirin Cup and a few other friendlies lined up for them.

It seems that DPRK prefer a defensive approach to their play, with their defense becoming famously hard to break down. It will be interesting to see how their defense fares in their group, alongside Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. Perhaps the likes of Luis Fabiano, Pato, Cristiano Ronaldo and Drogba might be a little bit too much for them.

Prediction: Would be a major upset if they managed to get out of their group, I'll say they will finish 4th in their group after a valiant display.


Now to continue this Asian-themed post, we move on to the other Koreans, South Korea. In the world of football, they are a bit more recognisable than their neighbours to the north, having competed in seven World Cup finals and managing to make it to the Semi-Finals in 2002. This year's qualifying started out a little tricky for the Taegeuk Warriors, with some poor performances in the third round of qualifying, but they still advanced to the final round and began to really show their dominance, brushing aside the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and earning a key 1-1 draw away to Iran.

Generally regarded as Asia's most successful footballing nation, South Korea have now built a squad which has a lot of European pedigree and big-match experience, and a good few recognisable names. You may remember the likes of Ahn Jung-Hwan, the striker who scored the winning goal against Italy in 2002, Seol Ki-Hyeon, who spent six seasons in England. Also recognisable are players like Park Ji-Sung, Lee Young-Pyo and Celtic starlet Ki Sung-Yong.

South Korea find themselves in Group B, up against Argentina, Nigeria and Greece. Not an easy group by any means, but I think the Taegeuk Warriors will really fancy their chances of passing through to the last 16.

Star Man: Park Ji-Sung

It really couldn't be anyone else, team captain Park Ji-Sung is the nation's most famous, most recognisable and most talented player. We know him from his five seasons at Manchester United, where he always provides a tireless and committed performance, making him a real favourite with the fans. Sir Alex Ferguson was famously quoted as saying that leaving Park out of the 18-man squad for the 2008 Champions League Final was one of the hardest decisions he had ever made as a manager.

Personally I am a big fan of Park Ji-Sung, his effort and determination is unbelievable, and despite being an automatic selection for his national team, he still shows that desire and hunger to win every time he plays. A real role model for a lot of young players, he has evidently influenced such young stars as Ki Sung-Yong, his new midfield partner and heir to his throne. I expect Park to play every minute of South Korea's involvement in the 2010 World Cup, and he will be hoping he can lead his side to some more success.

Player to Watch: Park Chu-Young

Park Chu-Young is a revelation in South Korea, in a nation that produces a lot of technical midfield players, he has emerged as the complete forward that they have been searching for for a long time. Playing with AS Monaco in France, Park is rapidly becoming one of the top strikers in Ligue 1, leading the attack for Monaco and scoring regularly.

He has a lot of valuable attributes and elements to his game that have got him to where he is today, he is very intelligent on the field, great with the ball at his feet, and very talented in the air. He will be an automatic choice for South Korea this Summer, and I'm sure he will come up with a few goals and really make a great impression.

Prediction: I think South Korea will have a really strong showing this year. They have a great opportunity to advance from their group, and with a good system and a kind draw they could make it into the Quarter Finals and really cause a stir. I'll stick to a Second Round exit though.


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