|Title||Korea Republic Must Forget Iran Jinx, Says Legend Ahn Jung-Hwan|
Seoul: Ahn Jung-hwan insists Korea Republic must forget about their “jinx” against the Islamic Republic of Iran ahead of the East Asians’ crucial FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 qualifier with their longtime nemesis at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Thursday.
The Taeguk Warriors have endured an inconsistent campaign to date and currently occupy second position in Group A, a point ahead of third-placed Uzbekistan, and seven adrift of already-qualified Iran, who they last beat in 2011 and have since lost four in a row to.
And Ahn, who most memorably starred in the Koreans’ run to the 2002 FIFA World Cup semi-finals on home soil, is under no illusions as to the size of the challenge the current generation face with just two games remaining.
“When we must win it becomes a really tough game because there is the extra pressure,” said Ahn, who netted a dramatic extra-time winner against Italy in the last 16 in 2002.
“The Korean national team is now backed into a corner so the first thing we should do is try and feel relaxed. We shouldn’t think about the jinx – we can break it.
“If we win the match it will be the opportunity for us to get rid of this mindset about Iran.”
Korea Republic began Group A strongly, taking seven points from their first three games, but since losing 1-0 in Iran in October last year, have won two and lost two, while the unbeaten Iranians have gone from strength to strength.
The East Asians do, though, have a perfect home record and will look to maintain that run ahead of what could prove a winner-takes-all encounter with Uzbekistan in Tashkent on Matchday 10.
“We should play our own game,” added Ahn. “Iran have already qualified so they are not going to push and won’t be in a hurry, so we must play with intensity.
“Iran have nothing to lose and we have to win so the match will be really difficult, and we need to remain calm or we could lose the game.
“But I think at the moment we’re not much of a team. Every side has some problems, and we are having a hard time just now, but we are in transition and we can overcome the issues.”
After making his national-team debut in 1997 Ahn went on to represent his country, and score, at both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, while he was also in the squad for the 2010 edition.
The class of the 2000s achieved Korea Republic’s first-ever win at the tournament when, under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, they beat Poland 2-0 in Busan on route to a semi-final appearance that also saw wins over Portugal and Spain (on penalties) before a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Germany.
And the team followed that up with their maiden World Cup win outside Korea when Ahn scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory over Togo four years later in Germany in what was their sixth consecutive tournament – a figure that now stands at eight.
“All we wanted to do [in 2002] was just win one game, with the goal of qualifying for the knockout rounds,” said Ahn.
“No one expected us to beat Italy, but that’s the reason so many people around the world love football. However, more than the match with Italy, I preferred the game against Togo in 2006 because it was the first World Cup match we won abroad.
“Right now it’s difficult to talk about the next World Cup because we haven’t qualified yet. The most important thing is to qualify as it will be hard to recover from not going.”
Photos: Lagardère Sports
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