Soccer: Will the real South Korea please stand up?
By Peter Rutherford
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea have followed a dismal qualifying campaign with some morale-boosting friendly performances against quality opposition so it is anyone's guess which side will show up for the World Cup next year.
The Koreans, who reached the 2002 semi-finals on home soil and will be making their ninth straight World Cup appearance, have given their fans precious little to get excited about since reaching the Asian Cup final almost three years ago.
Coach Uli Stielike was sacked in June after defeats in Iran, China and Qatar left Korea's qualifying hopes in the balance and his replacement, former international Shin Tae-yong, initially did little to inspire confidence, coaxing the side over the line with nervy scoreless draws in their final two games.
Listless defeats to Russia and Morocco in October friendlies heightened the sense of panic in Korea to such an extent that 2002 coach Guus Hiddink was being touted as a possible saviour.
But just as the demands that the popular Dutchman take the reins for Russia were building into a groundswell, everything changed in the blink of an eye.South Korea were a team transformed.
With skipper Ki Sung-yueng looking fully fit for the first time since June and forward Son Heung-min carrying his rampaging Tottenham Hotspur form into the national side, Korea played 13th ranked Colombia off the park in a 2-1 win in Suwon on Nov. 10.
Serbia were fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw in Ulsan four days later as Korea delivered another energetic, eye-catching performance against a fellow World Cup qualifier.
While it is too early to say the uptick in form will hold through to next summer, the performances suggest South Korea have the makings of a side that can do better than their meek group stage exit at the last World Cup in Brazil.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)