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South Korea, Nigeria battle for continental pride

South Korea, Nigeria battle for continental pride

South Korea can advance to the next round by defeating the winless Nigerians at Durban on Tuesday.

Durban: South Korea and Nigeria could turn to veterans like 2002 World Cup hero Ahn Jung-hwan and Nwankwo Kanu for Tuesday's Group B game as they fight to join Argentina in the last 16.

South Korea can advance to the next round by defeating the winless Nigerians at Durban on Tuesday. Anything less will mean the South Koreans chances of progressing will depend on the outcome of Argentina's match against Greece in the other group match.

"What's more important than the other match is that we play well and get a good result," Korean coach Huh Jung-moo said Monday.

He is even prepared to use Ahn, who is not yet fully fit after recovering from injury, as a late substitute if the South Koreans need a goal.

Ahn famously eliminated Italy with a golden goal in the round of 16 in 2002.

"His physical condition wasn't that good but it's improved enormously," Huh said, "and if the team needs him I think he can play a decisive role."

Unless Greece upsets Argentina or secures a high-scoring draw, the South Koreans will need only a draw against Nigeria on Tuesday in Durban to make it through to the next round.

Huh said he would be monitoring the other group match as his team plays Nigeria in Durban but will aim for victory regardless of what is happening between Greece and Argentina.

"We are going to play a game that we can win," he said.

Six of South Korea's squad now play in Europe and the best-known, Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung, said that will help the team tackle Nigeria.

"We have a lot of players playing on European teams so now we know how to play with African members and also against them," he said. "We have accumulated quite a lot of experience."

The Koreans are playing in their seventh consecutive World Cup but have never made it out of their group except when they reached the semifinals when they co-hosted the tournament in 2002.

Then, coached by Dutchman Guus Hiddink, the run sparked delirious celebrations across South Korea and turned Hiddink into a revered national hero.

Now Huh wants to prove his team can advance from group play away from home, too.

"This is our wish and desire, so we really are going to fight hard," he said.

South Korea will have to put in a much stronger defensive performance than it did against Argentina, when it was overwhelmed in losing 4-1.

Even though Nigeria has lost both its games so far at the World Cup, it could still reach the round of 16 by beating South Korea — and relying on an Argentina victory.

"It's a really good team, so let's hope we can show it to the whole world tomorrow ... I think we have a good chance to get a good result against Korea," coach Lars Lagerback said Monday. "As a coach I've learned that nothing is impossible. Of course Greece can beat Argentina. But I don't expect that."

Lagerback refused to give away any details of his starting lineup Tuesday but did not rule out fielding Kanu — a two-time African Player of the Year — in the final Group B match.

He said defender Taye Taiwo had rejoined regular training after recovering from injury and would likely be declared fit for the game.

Nigeria is among the African teams that have disappointed at a World Cup in which they were expected to shine on home soil. The African teams have only one win between them from 12 games.

"I think African teams have very good players ... but maybe there's a lack of continuity. All the players in the Super Eagles play abroad and you need time to (build) a team. Maybe that's true for other African teams," Lagerback said. "Let's hope we can show tomorrow that African teams not only play well but also get results."

South Korea will be aiming to reach the round of 16 a day after North Korea was eliminated from the tournament following a 7-0 thrashing by Portugal.

The Nigerians are eager to make up for their 2-1 loss to Greece, in a game turned by the 33rd-minute expulsion of Nigeria midfielder Sani Kaita for a senseless sideline foul when he kicked out at an opponent.

Kaita has publicly apologized over the incident that let the Greeks back in the game.

Midfielder Dickson Etuhu said the Super Eagles have recovered from their setbacks.

"Obvious we are not happy about not getting results. We believe we can still do it, obviously with the help of Argentina," he said. "The atmosphere in the team is amazing ... We respect the opposing team. But this is a cup final for us. So we have to go out, work hard, and win the game."

first published:June 22, 2010, 02:39 IST