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   June 26, 2002 | 1223 IST


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Hiddink faces a range of choices

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South Korea's Guus Hiddink is a hero to his adoring Red Devil fans and after securing a place in history now finds himself the most marketable coach in the game.

Hiddink's team may have lost their hard-fought World Cup semi-final 1-0 to Germany on Tuesday but the disappointing result has had little impact on his soaring reputation within football.

He is the only coach to have taken two different nations to the last four at the World Cup and the only one to have guided an Asian team to those exalted heights.

But the amiable Dutchman's contract with the Koreans is up after Saturday's third-place playoff in Taegu and he will become a free agent should he decide, as expected, against an extension.

While there will no doubt be huge pressure on him to stay from a grateful Korean public, the man who took the Netherlands to the semi-finals in France four years ago has given no sign that he is about to have a change of heart and stay on.

The fact that he has lived in a hotel throughout his time in Korea shows he has always viewed his task as limited to steering the team through the challenge of co-hosting the World Cup.

Always the professional, he is now focused on the third-place playoff match against the losers of Wednesday's Brazil-Turkey semi-final but already appears to be in retrospective mood.

"We can be proud of the boys and what they did not just tonight but especially over the long run of the tournament," he said after the semi-final defeat.

"The expectations in Korea were enormous but not realistic. Earlier in the tournament I tried to keep the pressure away from the team.

"The team has really come together but you have to keep in mind that they play in the Korean league, which is a second or third class league.


After a campaign in which he took a country without a win in five previous World Cups on a remarkable run past top European opposition -- Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain all lost to his dynamic team -- Hiddink will now be able to take his time and his pick of some of the best jobs in the game.

Any aspiring soccer nation would surely covet the services of an inspirational coach who has produced not only the best Asian team of all time, but arguably the most effective side to come from outside the game's European and Latin American strongholds.

As well as his outstanding achievements at international level Hiddink has an admirable record in club football, which includes four straight Dutch league titles and a 1988 treble that included the Dutch Cup and European Cup with PSV Eindhoven.

Hiddink also won the World Club Cup in late 1998 during a stint with Real Madrid that ended when poor league form saw him being shown the door in February 1999.

Speaking English and Spanish as well as his native Dutch, Hiddink would be an attractive option for major European clubs and a lucrative contract could prove to be persuasive, although that is unlikely to be fundamental to a man who turned down a huge offer from Saudia Arabia to instead coach South Korea.

With no obvious vacancy at club level at present, Hiddink will likely bide his time -- there is never a season in European football without a big team changing their coach.

But if things do not work out in the fickle club game he will know there is one country where he would be instantly welcomed with open arms after writing the most remarkable chapter in their sporting history.

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