Korea Republic coach Pim Verbeek was up-beat about
Korea Republic are looking to qualify for their sixth Asian Cup final as they go head-to-head with surprise packets Iraq in a semi-final clash at the Bukit Jalil National stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
The Koreans are coming off an energy sapping penalty shoot-out win over Iran in their quarter-final after having played 120 minutes of scoreless football, but have had the luxury of remaining in the Malaysian capital for the semi-final match.
Iraq on the other hand, had it relatively easier in their second-round 2-0 victory over Vietnam in Bangkok, but have had a nightmare trip to Kuala Lumpur ahead of their first ever Asian Cup semi-final appearance.
“It’s been a tough tournament so far,” Pim Verbeek, Korea Republic coach, told a press conference on Tuesday.
“We had a difficult group including fellow semi-finalists Saudi Arabia, we had to overcome 90,000 fantastic fans at the match against Indonesia, we defeated tournament favourites Iran and had to play 120 minutes.
“Iraq’s match against Vietnam was much easier than what we had against Iran.”
Other than Middlesbrough striker Lee Dong-gook recovering from a few knocks against Iran, Verbeek should have a full squad to choose from on Wednesday even though his players are exhausted after their quarter-final epic.
“Since we came together, we have been aiming to win the Asian Cup,” Lee Chun-soo, Korea midfielder, said.
“We are delighted with our win over Iran and I’m sure we can win tomorrow night.
“We are physically tired, but if all our players concentrate, we can win,” added Lee, who looked like he had just been hauled out of bed to front the media.
Lee, who has had spells with Spanish sides Real Sociedad and Numancia, told of his desire to return to action in European football following the Asian Cup.
“My personal target is to go to Europe and play with a big European club after this tournament,” the Ulsan Horang-i player said.
“I want to focus on my future career after being successful at this tournament.”
Korea midfielder Lee Chun-soo has his sights
Korea’s success at the Asian Cup has come through playing high-paced football whenever possible, and Verbeek was aware of the toll it was taking on his players, especially after two hours on the pitch against Iran.
“One of the strengths of Korean football is to keep the tempo quite high,” Verbeek said.
“We need to play a little more with our heads and less with our hearts.
“It will be tough to maintain for another 90 minutes.”
The Dutch coach, Korea’s third in succession, was under no illusion as to the danger of the Iraq team in a match where his side are perceived to be big favourites.
“They reached the semi-finals at the Olympics, were finalists at the Asian Games, and they have beaten Australia 3-1,” said Verbeek.
“They have good strikers, tough defence, they are good at set pieces.
“We will have to play our best football to get to the final.”