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   June 16, 2002 | 1310 IST


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S Korea looking to take Italy in stride

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Jason Neely

South Korea face three-time champions Italy on Tuesday hoping to rekindle the magic of 1966 when neighbouring North Korea sent the Italians packing 1-0 in possibly the biggest soccer upset of all time.

Yes, the two Koreas have been divided since 1948, but with 5,000 years of shared history few South Koreans are unaware of the feat of 1966 as South Korea chart unknown waters in their first foray into the round of 16.

The South Koreans are writing football history of their own, winning not once but twice in the first round to end a winless streak that had haunted them through five previous finals dating back to 1954.

"That's a long time ago...I'm not thinking of that," coach Guus Hiddink said on Friday when asked about the memory of 1966.

South Korean fans wave Italian flags and a picture of Italy's player Gennaro Gattuso as they await the arrival of the Italian team on Sunday.The Azzurri, who were pelted with tomatoes by outraged fans when they returned home in 1966, are doubtless hoping that, if history repeats itself, it's more like the World Cup in 1986, when the Italians beat South Korea 3-2 in Mexico.

For Hiddink, who is Dutch, these finals are more about forging a fresh future for football with surprise challenges to traditional powers than about revisiting history.

Starting with the opening match in which Senegal shocked reigning champions France, this World Cup has been one of upsets as Asian and African sides refuse to believe the Europeans and South Americans are the only ones with a right to advance.

The Americans are also through to the final 16 as small teams watch giants like Argentina, France and Portugal make early exits.

"I know the Italian team...they are a strong team but I think Korea are also strong," South Korea forward Ahn Jung-hwan, who plays for Italian club Perugia, said after the hosts reached the final 16.

Hiddink has championed a fearless attitude towards top European sides, arguing that pressing, attacking football for a full 90 minutes is enough to put even the best on their back foot.

"Everyone says 'Don't meet Italy', but I'm not so scared," Hiddink told reporters last week.

After Portugal, he revealed the heart of his approach: "They don't like to feel the pressure, they don't like to feel the heat and the Korean team is capable now of putting on the pressure."

That was his strategy throughout the first round, where the hosts beat Poland 2-0, dominated before drawing 1-1 with the United States and stunned Portugal 1-0.

Co-hosts Japan, like South Korea, also advanced, becoming the first East Asian countries to do so since North Korea in 1966.

South Korea's win over Portugal echoed that fateful year.

North Korea went 3-0 up against Portugal before Eusebio netted four goals to lead a stunning 5-3 comeback that is another slice of 1966 football lore ranked among the very best.

North Korea has stayed aloof from Asia's first World Cup finals, choosing not to send a delegation to the South and airing only selected taped matches.

But South Korean newspapers said on June 7 North Korea would play South Korea on September 8 in their first soccer match in nearly a decade.

The North's team would fly to South Korea on September 6 on a rare direct charter flight and play in the stadium that hosted the World Cup opening ceremony and champion France's shock 1-0 defeat to Senegal, they said.

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