CUIABA, Brazil (AP) — In his fourth and final World Cup as a player, Hong Myung-bo led South Korea on that famous run to the semifinals in 2002.
Twelve years on, and now national team coach, it'll be some achievement if he gets the side beyond the group stage.
A stuttering qualifying campaign may have dented South Korean confidence ahead into their opening Group H match against Fabio Capello's Russia on Tuesday, but they've got a wealth of World Cup experience.
"We have a good memory from the last World Cup because we qualified through the group stage. So we also want to qualify in this one as well," South Korea midfielder Ki Sung-yeung said. "But it's not easy — it's going to be tough. We will suffer from every single game."
At first glance, it appears the Koreans and Russians will be in a race for second spot in the group behind a young and vibrant Belgium team whose golden generation has bloomed just in time for Brazil. Algeria is the other team in the group.
Much, therefore, hinges on the outcome in Cuiaba.
Capello endured a miserable first World Cup as coach with England in 2010, the team limping into the knockout stage before a heavy defeat to Germany in the last 16. And the build-up to the 2014 tournament has hardly been smooth for the Italian manager, losing Roman Shirokov — his captain and fulcrum of the midfield — to a back injury days before the big kickoff.
Capello has already said this tournament is a "rehearsal" for the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia, so the pressure is off his players somewhat. Given the weak nature of Group H, though, failure to advance would be a disappointment.
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