by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
After reaching the Asian Cup final for the first time in 27 years, South Korea’s national soccer team will now take on host Australia with the hopes of winning the coveted continental title.
South Korea last won the Asian Cup in 1960 when it was merely a four-team competition. Since then, the tournament has grown into a 16-team extravaganza. Averaging nearly 20,000 fans per game, the 2015 Asian Cup is on course to reach a record overall attendance of 650,000 as the final between Korea and the home team at Stadium Australia in Sydney, which seats 84,000 this Saturday at 1 a.m. PT, has already been sold out.
Here are five reasons why it would be amazing for Team Korea to finally win the Asian Cup:
1. Winning a continental championship on a six-game win streak would boost Korea’s currently abysmal ranking in world soccer.
After failing to impress at the World Cup in Brazil last summer, South Korea’s nation soccer team’s ranking plummeted to an all-time low at 69th in the world, according to FIFA. Per FIFA’s ranking procedures, the best way for a team to climb up the ladder is to win games in continental tournaments, such as the Asian Cup, European Championships and Copa America.
If Korea beats Australia in the Asian Cup final, then its six-game winning streak will certainly guarantee a significantly higher place in the FIFA rankings when the new list is released in February.
2. As Asian champions, Korea would be sent to the Confederations Cup, where it would play against the world’s best teams a year ahead of the World Cup.
It isn’t always easy for national teams like Korea, with its limited funding, to arrange games against top class opponents to prepare for the World Cup. An Asian Cup title would solve this issue immediately at no cost, as continental champions are invited to compete in the Confederations Cup, a quadrennial tournament held a year before every World Cup.
If Korea wins the Asian Cup, it would earn an invaluable chance to play against the European and South American champions in 2017 as well as play in venues where the World Cup will take place the following year.
3. There is no better way to send off soon-to-be-retired veteran Cha Du-ri than making him an Asian champion in his last game for Korea.
Cha, a 34-year-old fullback who has represented Korea for the last 14 years, is set to retire from the national team after the Asian Cup. The bald-headed veteran was controversially left out of the team roster for last year’s World Cup, in which he took part as a color commentator for South Korean TV network SBS.
When Korea lost 4-2 to Algeria in the World Cup, Cha cried during the nationally televised broadcast and said, “I apologize to our players, because experienced players like me weren’t good enough to make the team. Our young players were forced to carry a burden that was just too heavy for them.”
Cha, who has since returned to the team, already assisted two vital goals for Korea in the Asian Cup, and will have a chance to avenge the disappointment of missing what could have been his third World Cup appearance.
4. Team Korea has an opportunity for redemption after its embarrassment at the World Cup.
When the Korean players returned to the country last July after failing to win a game at the World Cup for the first time in 1998, some fans held a sign that read, “Korean soccer is dead,” and threw a barrage of yeot candy at them to express their disgust.
After beating Iraq in the Asian Cup semifinals, South Korean captain Ki Sung-yueng said, “The No. 1 reason we have to win this tournament is to restore our pride. We would feel hugely undone if we don’t win it at this point.”
Lifting the Asian Cup trophy for the first time in 55 years will surely be the best way for the team to recover the Korean people’s support and faith.
5. Korea’s national soccer players would gain immeasurable experience and a psychological boost if they become Asia’s best team with a depleted roster.
With injuries to first-choice forwards, such as Kim Shin-wook and Lee Dong-gook, South Korea’s newly-appointed German head coach Uli Stielike was left to bank on Lee Jung-hyup, an inexperienced 22-year-old striker who hasn’t even been a starter for his K League club Sangju Sangmu.
Lee has been a revelation during the Asian Cup after scoring two game-winning goals for Korea, but the national team has suffered devastating blows since the start of the tournament, especially with two of its best players–Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-chael–ruled out with injuries.
While it’s true that the team would become much stronger once the injured players recover, winning the Asian Cup with a wounded team would serve as a badge of honor for Team Korea.
Featured image courtesy of AFCAsianCup.com