S Korea relishing clash with old enemies Japan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 January, 2011, 12:00am

The oldest of foes stand between South Korea and a place in the final of the Asian Cup for the first time since the tournament was last played on Qatar's sandy soil in 1988 as Cho Kwang-rae's side set up a last-four clash with Japan.

Yoon Bit-garam's extra-time winner saw off a determined Iran as the Koreans continued on their path towards the nation's first continental title in more than 50 years.

A tiring tussle against Afshin Ghotbi's physically intimidating and commanding Persians will no doubt have robbed the Koreans of some of their spark going into tomorrow's meeting with an improving Japan team.But Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung is confident they can recover in time for the mouthwatering tie, which will feature the two teams who have most impressed at the 16th edition of the continental championship.

'We have only two days to prepare for the next game, so we have to relax and then recover as well,' said Park. 'It's not a problem to play against Japan because we can get by mentally.'

The 29-year-old midfielder is relishing the meeting with Alberto Zaccheroni's team as the Koreans try to stay on course for a record-equalling third Asian title. Japan, meanwhile, are aiming to become the first nation to win for a fourth time.

'Japan play a different style, so it will be less physical and you will see more football,' said Park.

'It gives us more motivation to play against Japan and more determination to win the semi-final because we haven't won this tournament in so long.'

The two nations last met in a friendly match in Seoul in October which ended in a 0-0 draw. That was Zaccheroni's second game in charge of the team while it was also early in the reign of Korea coach Cho.

'We weren't at 100 per cent,' says Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-yueng of that encounter. 'We weren't organised and we are a much better team now.

'After the World Cup, both teams changed managers, squads and tactics and have been developing.

'Also, there's a big difference in individual performance so we are still learning from the manager and we are staying well organised.'

The winners will meet either Uzbekistan or Australia, with both nations making their debut appearance in the last four of the Asian Cup.

Harry Kewell's goal four minutes from the end of extra-time saw off defending champions Iraq and the former Leeds United and Liverpool star hailed his side's progress.

'I think it's a massive achievement for Australian football,' said Kewell. 'In 2007 we were in a good position to get through to the semi-finals and we failed. So that was always in the back of my mind. I've played in games where you dominate and all of a sudden they've gone up to the other end and scored and you think: 'How have we lost this game?'

'Credit to our back four and our keeper, they've held them out and our striker's got the goal.'

The Australians fell to Japan in the quarters in Hanoi in 2007, losing to the then-champions in a penalty shootout.

'I'm ecstatic,' said Kewell. 'I'd have been so disappointed if we had lost after playing 120 minutes and not getting through. It would have been heartbreaking.'