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   June 19, 2002 | 1930 IST


Umit Davala
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Hiddink's experience is Korea's gain

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Four years ago Guus Hiddink masterminded a 5-0 destruction of South Korea by a star-studded Dutch team at the World Cup in France.

On Saturday, the self-effacing Dutchman leads South Korea into their first quarter-final against Spain, underscoring the extraordinary turnaround he has engineered in just 18 months.

"We are normal, humble, hard-working people," Hiddink said after the hosts beat Italy 2-1 on Tuesday, a feat even he described before the match as "almost the impossible".

The perception of what is possible for South Korea has changed completely since Hiddink's focus on fitness produced a side that attacks for a full 90 minutes of fast, physical soccer.

Ahn Jung-hwan was a player who "could not play 20 minutes of football at a high level" in Hiddink's words before the striker improved his conditioning and won a start against Portugal in the group stage.

Ahn, slight but skilful, played for 117 minutes before heading home the golden goal that sent the Italians packing.

"I was tough on him he has strong stamina," the coach said.

Hiddink has described the South Korea attack as "controlled, not blind attack" in a phrase that neatly sums up the transition the side has made.

He waited until late in the Italy match before throwing on five forwards as the defensive Europeans tried to safeguard a 1-0 lead and he was rewarded for his bravery with an 88th-minute equaliser.

"I would prefer to lose 2-0 than not try to go for the draw," he said, praising his players for the control and patience they showed ahead of their last-minute goal.


Hiddink, 55, had spells with PSV Eindhoven - with whom he won the European Cup in 1988 - Fenerbahce and Valencia before taking over the Dutch side in 1995. He took them to the semifinals and then coached Real Madrid and Real Betis.

He took over the Korean side in 2000 and spent the first year fending off criticism of his choice of tough teams for friendlies as the dispirited South Koreans showed woeful finishing and took their lumps, trounced 5-0 twice by France and the Czech Republic.

South Korea had not won a single World Cup match in five appearances spanning 48 years and the prospects for 2002 looked bleak.

But the unflappable Hiddink insisted exposure to top sides was the only way to prepare and in 2002 his squad has gelled.

In the World Cup group stage, they beat Poland 2-0, dominated before drawing 1-1 with the United States and stunned Portugal 1-0.

One of the key changes introduced by the coach was that players from Korean club sides had to be available for World Cup preparations, giving him about four months to work with them as a unit.

South Korea went seven matches without defeat, a streak ended only by a come-from-behind win by Cup champions France in a warm-up last month.

"I must give credit to these players, they keep on fighting but also tactically they have learned a lot in these weeks and that's incredible," Hiddink said.

On Saturday he will take the surprising South Koreans into battle against a Spain squad laden with his former charges at Real Madrid.

Regardless of the outcome, Hiddink is expected to receive offers from top national and club sides.

A campaign to offer Hiddink South Korean citizenship shows how badly the team's Red Devil fans hope he can resist.

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