Park to bring up his hundred in grudge semi-final against Japan

Park Ji-Sung will add another milestone to his list of career achievements when he wins his 100th cap for South Korea in the Asian Cup semi-finals against Japan tonight.

The Manchester United midfielder could be winding down his international career after three World Cup campaigns and three Asian Cup tournaments, although he has remained evasive about his future. "I won't put too much meaning to the fact that it'll be my 100th match," said Park, who made his international debut in 2000. "It's the semi-final and against Japan, and that will make the match very interesting."

Park has become one of Asia's biggest stars and he would reach his pinnacle if South Korea finally won their third Asian Cup title after waiting since 1960.

South Korea coach Cho Kwang-rae said Park has done an "excellent job" for his country so far at the tournament. "I'd like to congratulate him and as a gift I'd like to give him victory tomorrow," Cho said. "He has shown outstanding leadership on and off the field and I want him to continue his excellent contribution to the end of the Asian Cup."

Midfielder Koo Ja-cheol, one of South Korea's crop of younger players, said Park, the captain, had been an inspiration to the entire team. "To be with a player who is one of the best is the world is important. He is giving us a lot of advice both on and off the pitch to make young players like me comfortable," the 21-year-old Koo said. "He has excellent leadership of the team and is the perfect example of someone who sacrifices himself for the team very much."

The 29-year-old Park made his World Cup debut in 2002, when he was picked by then-coach Guus Hiddink for the tournament that South Korea co-hosted with Japan, a tournament in which they reached the semi-finals. Park played in 2006 and 2010 as well and scored at all three tournaments.

Park has distinguished himself with exemplary commitment and fitness at both club and country level.

After moving to Manchester United in 2005, Park helped the club win three consecutive Premier League titles and was the first Asian to play in a Champions League final, when United lost to Barcelona in 2009. The season before that, Park had helped United reach the final but was excluded from the squad against Chelsea by manager Alex Ferguson. United won on penalties.

The Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni is trying to keep the expectation in his squad under control as they prepare to face their long-term rivals. The experienced Italian coach believes too much intensity might increase tension among Japan players, who are seeking to win a record fourth Asian Cup title.

Zaccheroni expects a tight match between very similar teams, and thinks it will be decided by small details.

The two countries are historical rivals, mainly due to Tokyo's brutal 35-year occupation of the Korean peninsula in the early part of the last century. Major international football and baseball matches between them have drawn huge attention in both countries. In recent years, however, a sports rivalry has emerged as the two countries have grown closer, especially in the cultural sphere.

"I don't want to focus too much on the background between Japan and South Korea," South Korea midfielder Koo said yesterday.

"It's always something special, but it's just a game before the final and it won't make a big difference to us," said Koo, who leads the tournament's scoring table with four goals.

Japan midfielder Makoto Hasebe also didn't want to dwell on the past. "I don't need to speak about it a lot, you know the history and the relationship of the two teams. We'll play with pride in tomorrow's match," Hasebe said. "I want to be the champion here and that's more important than beating South Korea."

For Zaccheroni, Japan versus South Korea is the Asian version of Brazil v Argentina or Italy v Germany, the classic South American and European showdowns. "I don't know about South Korea, but for me yes, it's like those rivalries," the former Juventus, Milan and Internazionale coach said.

Zaccheroni said his players were "mentally exhausted" after they battled from behind with 10 men to defeat hosts Qatar in the quarter-finals and gave them a day off to rest on Sunday.

"The physical side is important but the mental aspect is especially important when you've had a tight match so I needed to give them a day off," Zaccheroni said. "I don't need to motivate my players, they know how important tomorrow's match is. I have to find the right balance between focus and tension, too much tension is not good.

"I have to adjust and control the right level of tension. Too much motivation leads to too much tension."

Japan defender Maya Yoshida will be out after picking up a red card against Qatar but Zaccheroni said he was not worried about his young defence, which has conceded four goals in four games.

"We lead the tournament with 11 goals scored," the coach said of Japan's high-powered attack.

Zaccheroni's team will rely on the scoring abilities of striker Shinji Okazaki, who has three goals so far, midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who scored twice against Qatar, and the midfield inspiration of Keisuke Honda.

Japan have won three of the past five Asian titles but havwe a losing record overall (34-10) against South Korea. At the Asian Cup, though, the teams have won a game each, with South Korea winning on penalties in the third-place play-off four years ago.

South Korea, who progressed with a 1-0 extra-time win over Iran, will be eager to make up for a consistent record of failure in the knockout stages. Despite only once failing to make the quarter-finals in 12 appearances, they have not won the tournament in over 50 years.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power