SAO PAULO (AP) — South Korea's coach says part of the beauty of football is that the best team doesn't always win — and that's what he is hoping for against heavily favored Belgium in their final Group H match Thursday.
South Korea, which reached the semifinals on home soil in the 2002 World Cup, has thus far been one of the weaker teams in Brazil. Last in its group, South Korea still has a slim chance of advancing to the next round. For that to happen, South Korea has to win big against group leader Belgium and it needs a favorable result from the Algeria-Russia game, too.
With Belgium having already advanced, it may rest some of its stars. Coach Hong Myung-Bo said Wednesday that as the last Asian team in contention, South Korea had to take matters into its own hands.
"I don't know what this match means for Belgium but for us this is very important. Regardless of how they come to the match we will do our best," said Hong, who captained the famous 2002 semifinal run and is regarded as one of Asia's greatest players.
"In the case of football, it doesn't necessarily mean that the strongest team will always win, so that is what we are preparing for and even though this is our last game we can hope."
The team is lucky to even have a single point in the tournament thanks to Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev's blunder in the opener when he let a routine save from a shot of about 30 yards slip through his grasp. South Korea couldn't hold the lead, though, and finished with a 1-1 draw. Next they were soundly beaten by Algeria 4-2.
South Korea has progressed past the group stage in two of the last three World Cups, reaching the semifinals as co-host in 2002 and the Round of 16 in 2010. Hong knows it will be a long shot to repeat the feat this time.
"Right now for us to go the Round of 16, of course the conditions are not favorable," Hong said. "What I am telling my players is regardless of whether we move on to the next stage I want us to give the Korean people hope."
With Japan, Australia and Iran already eliminated, South Korea remains the only hope from the Asian qualifying group.
Hong said he believed the game in Asia was going through a turning point with individual players improving drastically but national teams not yet enjoying the results.
"We have to think of this as a transition period," he said.
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