Park and co target knockout phase
Park Ji-sung insists South Korea are best placed to carry the fight for Asia at this summer's World Cup. Semi-finalists on home soil in 2002, South Korea are slowly making an impression on foreign fields too. Led by Park, their players are gaining more experience in European leagues and in beating the highly-rated Ivory Coast at Loftus Road in March, they cemented their status as one of the most progressive sides outside the traditional European-South American axis that tends to dominate on the world stage. Drawn in a group containing Argentina, Nigeria and Greece, Park and his team-mates have genuine ambitions of reaching the knockout stage, a feat at least one Asian team is capable of achieving, according to the Manchester United star. "If one of the teams get through the group stage, that would be regarded as a success in Asia," said Park. "I hope it will be us because I truly believe we are the best team in Asia. "We have proved that with our results. We do well in qualification against Japan and all the other Asian teams. "It helps us that more Korean players are in Europe. "Before, we didn't have any experience outside our own country. We didn't know how to deal with different types of players. "Now quite a few players are getting experience in different parts of the world. It makes us more confident to play against African or European teams." The performance against the highly-rated Ivorians provided evidence of that improvement. With Monaco forward Park Chu-young - fitness permitting - and Bolton's Lee Chung-yong providing a cutting edge and Freiburg's Cha Du-ri at least giving the defence some European know-how, Park's energy may gain some tangible reward. Much may depend on the Nigeria encounter in Durban on June 22, which is why beating Didier Drogba and company was so important. "The Ivory Coast are the best team in Africa and there is an African team in our group, so it was a really good experience for us to play against them," Park added. "African teams are very strong and quick. We have to play as a unit to counteract that. "Hard work and energy are natural things for our country and we tried to incorporate those things into our team a long time ago, so in a way it is normal. "But it was still a very useful lesson." Frequent visitors to the World Cup table in recent times, South Korea will have the unique experience of heading for South Africa along with their northern rivals, who were more surprising qualifiers. There is certainly a romanticism that ensures Park has nothing but good wishes for a country who are so close, but about whom so little is known. "I am pleased North Korea have qualified," he said. "I am extremely happy we are going to the World Cup together for the first time in our history. "As a team, North Korea are very strong-minded. "They have a strong mentality and work very hard for each other. "They play defensively and they like to stay in their own half and counter-attack, so it is not easy to beat them. "But it is going to be very hard because they are in the same group as Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. "I wish them every success but it will be interesting to see how they cope."
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