CUIABA, Brazil - In the space of a week, South Korea have taken a stinging 4-0 loss to Ghana in Miami and turned it into a case study on what not to do in their opening World Cup Group H match against Russia on Tuesday.
It was a humbling World Cup warm-up for the team who made it to the semi-finals in 2002 when South Korea co-hosted the tournament. They have lost four of their last five games, conceded 11 goals and scored two.
But the Ghana rout might have been the cathartic moment the young team needed, team captain Koo Ja-cheol said on Monday. "The overall atmosphere was not that great, but thanks to that match we talked a lot about it...and how we didn't take advantage of the chances against Ghana," he told a news conference on Monday. "As we arrived in Brazil, we created a more positive atmosphere. We are fully confident about tomorrow," the 25-year-old midfielder added.
Coach Hong Myung-bo, who captained the glory team in 2002 and is South Korea's most capped player, acknowledged "the preparation process up to now has not been easy (but) we know what we have to do." He was confident he had made the right decisions on training, including spending time in Miami to prepare for the humidity of Cuiaba, where the temperature for Tuesday's match could be around 30 degrees Celsius.
Russia, coached by experienced Italian Fabio Capello, are expected to repeat their friendly win over South Korea in Dubai last November.
Hong said he refused to believe the Russians consider South Korea underdogs, and he will not get hung up on his side's lack of goal-scoring prowess as they enter their eighth consecutive World Cup finals. "We do look forward to scoring goals in the match, but there are other things they have to focus on," Hong said. "(The players) have to concentrate on their roles and their positions." One of the big questions is whether the young team can withstand the pressure of the World Cup.
The majority of their squad are in their mid-20s and playing in the finals for the first time, although several were in the Olympic team who won bronze in 2012, also coached by Hong.
Hong refused to say whether his squad is better or worse than they one that made waves in 2002 but he likes their combination of youthful vigour and experienced heads. "This is a very young team," he said. "They are very energetic, but despite their youth they don't make rash judgments, they make wise decisions. They are the future of Korean football."