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   1 June, 2002 | 1627 IST



France get the blues

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Unflappable Dutchman charms Korean's

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South Korea's love affair with Dutch coach Guus Hiddink is in full bloom as the co-hosts dream of making the last 16 in the World Cup, but don't expect much gushing from the no-nonsense Dutchman.

The coach of the Netherlands when they thrashed South Korea 5-0 at the finals in France four years ago, Hiddink now has the job of landing Asia's most frustrated finalists their first win.

After a slow start, under Hiddink they have trounced Scotland 4-1 and drawn 1-1 against England in recent friendlies.

Their speed had France scrambling until a late goal gave the champions a 3-2 win before a thrilled crowd in Suwon last Sunday.

South Korea has followed the team's fortunes closely as fans clamour for their first win in six appearances in the World Cup finals, the first of which was 48 years ago.

"Definitely," replies 14-year-old Lee So-young when asked if South Korea will reach the final 16 for the first time. "They're a lot better with Hiddink," she says, adding: "And he's cute."

After six years of preparing with co-hosts Japan to stage the 2002 finals, things are peaking for South Korea, who hold the Asian record for appearances in the World Cup finals.

A television commercial for a credit card featuring the unflappable Hiddink is back on the air after being pulled when the team's fortunes looked less bright.

"Mr Hiddink, we believe in you," is the slogan.

Columnists and researchers have also joined a chorus of football-frenzied adoration.

Miss Korea contestants made Hiddink the pick of the team for marriage, a poll by the Daily Sports newspaper showed.

Others have called for a dash of the Dutchman's tactics to bolster the economy and run the government better.

If Hiddink is flattered by the attention, he doesn't show it.

"I don't watch myself on television," he said this week.


Playing at home has put South Korea under intense pressure to make the final 16, but they face stiff opposition in Group D rivals Portugal, Poland and the United States.

Just three days before they open their World Cup campaign, Hiddink was more interested in a media report of trouble in his camp and still driving his players to win their starting spots.

"I (only) like to talk to serious people," said Hiddink as he upbraided a local reporter on Saturday for writing that injured striker Choi Yong-soo was causing trouble in the ranks.

"When it's written that Choi Yong-soo is a kind of rebel, I get very angry," he said, pledging to help him return to form.

A former coach at Real Madrid and PSV Eindhoven, Hiddink has declined to talk about his future plans, which some media have suggested might involve a return to Eindhoven.

"I'm fully focused on my job here," he said this week.

That focus meant a training session that ran more than two hours this week, something the coach takes pride in as he sees speedier recovery in his players from fatigue and injury.

"We have the figures," he said on Saturday. "The recovery...capacity has increased a lot."

Hiddink is betting on a speedy Korean side making the most of their chances.

"The team is capable of maintaining a high rhythm, especially at the last part of the game," he said.

"We must have an extra gear and we have some players who can do that," he added, explaining his last-minute choices as veterans and young players alike battle for starting positions.

"I'm using the last make up my final mind."

Hailing Senegal's stunning 1-0 opening upset of reigning champions France as a blow struck for the little teams, Hiddink said the Koreans were in the same boat.

"I hope we can do the same, to make surprises the outside world is not expecting," he said.

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