Sunday, February 14, 2010

Crunch time....or is it?

There's been a lot written over the last two or three days about how tomorrow's East Asian Championship meeting between South Korea and Japan could see the coach of the losing team heading for the exit door just four months before they take their respective teams to the World Cup finals in South Africa in June.

But with such a short time lag to the finals, replacing either Huh Jung-moo or Takeshi Okada would be little short of madness. The feeling is, no matter how poor the Japanese have been in front of goal, that the Japan Football Association is unlikely to pull the trigger on Okada. It's just too close to the finals to be indulging in the task of looking for a new coach.

It's harder to be so certain with the Koreans, however, and the news on the ground is that there has been a significant increase in late applications for accreditation from Korean media companies seeking to attend tomorrow's game just in case there's a repeat of the surprise loss to the Chinese on Wednesday.

Sure, the Koreans weren't particularly impressive against China, but that's also failing to acknowledge that this was one of the best Chinese performances in years. Personally, I've not seen China play with that level of confidence or verve since they qualified for the 2002 World Cup. For a country mired in many football-related problems, it was a joy to behold despite the extremely unpleasant conditions at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Games between Japan and South Korea don't usually need to be hyped up - especially amongst the Koreans - but the pressure around this one is building and if the Koreans lose, then there will undoubtedly be a campaign to oust Huh from his position. Following the loss to the Chinese, the KFA's website apparently crashed under the weight of traffic from angry fans trying to post hyper-critical messages. Would an anti-Huh campaign be successful? Previous KFA administrations have given into fan groups before - Jo Bonfrere, for example, fell victim to just that kind of move after Korea failed to win the East Asian Championship in 2005.

Huh, though, is no Bonfrere (while he's not perfect Huh's certainly a more pleasant person to be around than the obnoxious Dutchman!) and his team did play well in qualifying. Given that he's missing several starting players - Park Ji-sung, Park Chu-young, Lee Chung-yung, Ki Seung-yung and a number of others - there shouldn't be a lot read into this. A sensible KFA would keep Huh in his position.

But once any mob turns angry, it's a hard thing to pacify....

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