South Korean midfielder Koo Ja-cheol said Monday he will always have fond memories of playing against China to fall back on, ahead of the two teams' World Cup qualifier here later in the week.
Koo was picked to man the midfield against China in Group A showdown of the final Asian World Cup qualifying round at Helong Stadium in Changsha, south central China, on Thursday.
South Korean football players Ji Dong-won (left) and Koo Ja-cheol pose for photos after their press conference at Kempinski Hotel Changsha in Changsha, south central China, on March 20, 2017, ahead of a World Cup qualifying match versus China. (Yonhap)
Koo, who plays club football for FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga, is one of the most experienced players on coach Uli Stielike's roster with 56 caps, behind only midfielder Ki Sung-yueng's 89.
And he made his international debut in South Korea's 3-2 win over China at the EAFF East Asian Cup in February 2008.
"I have a lot of positive memories (of playing well against China)," Koo said at a press conference at the team's residence, Kempinski Hotel Changsha. "We won in my international debut, and also at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games."
Overall, South Korea have lost just once in 31 meetings against China, with 18 wins and 12 draws. Koo also played in that one defeat, which came at the 2010 East Asian Cup, but said he'd long forgotten about it until a reporter reminded him Monday.
"China have made a great progress, and with many South Koreans playing in their league, they no longer fear South Korean players," Koo added. "But I have faith in our team."
It will be a crucial match for both: South Korea are trailing Iran by a point, 11-10, in second place, in their quest for their ninth consecutive World Cup berth. China are in last place in Group A with two points and are still searching for their first win.
In their previous World Cup qualifying showdown in September in Seoul, China gave South Korea a scare, rallying from a 3-0 deficit with two late goals before going down 3-2.
Stielike and the rest of the team were hammered by the media for their poor efforts, but Koo said he will gladly take a victory in any way he can.
"We still picked up three points at home that we wanted," Koo said. "I am sure people will say things about the way we played, but we've managed to overcome that by playing together as a team."
The football match will take place under deepening tension between the two governments over Seoul's decision to host a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery. South Korea will likely compete before a hostile crowd at the 55,000-seat venue, but Koo said the atmosphere at the stadium, no matter how intimidating, won't be a factor.
"It doesn't matter who will be watching at the stadium and where we are playing," Koo added. "It's an important match because it's our first World Cup qualifier of the year, and not because we're playing against China in China."
Midfielder Ji Dong-won, Koo's FC Augsburg teammate, agreed that the size of the crowd at an away stadium won't have any bearing on South Korea's performance, saying, "The bigger the crowd, the more fun it is to play."
"China won't be an easy opponent, and they'll be determined to beat us," Ji added. "But I absolutely don't think we'll be intimidated. We have to be much better than the last time we played China. We will not make the same mistakes." (Yonhap)