PORT ELIZABETH - South Korea's advance to the knockout rounds of the World Cup should not come as a surprise given the rapid improvement of the Asian game, captain Park Ji-sung said on Friday.
Park said his side were capable of beating Uruguay in Saturday's opening second round match in Port Elizabeth and their semi-final appearance as hosts in 2002 - their only previous advance from the group stages - was no fluke.
"We don't have a clear conviction on how far we can go but we made it to the semi-finals in 2002 and that wasn't just because we were hosts," he said. "We will go out tomorrow to prove that."
He praised Asian rivals Japan for their march to the second round along with the Koreans and said it showed how much the Asian game had improved. The 46-country region has never had two teams in the knockout rounds on foreign soil.
The European experience the South Korean players had gained was the decisive factor in the team's improvement, Park said.
Six members of the squad play in leagues in France, Germany, England, Scotland and Russia, among others who have returned home after stints with European clubs.
"Our confidence is all from that experience," he added.
Park has excelled where other Asians have failed in becoming an important player with English giants Manchester United, whose players, and manager Alex Ferguson, had kept in regular contact.
"They say they hope I'll play well here," he said. "And they tell me not get hurt."
South Korea will need to have those players on top form against a Uruguayan team with a powerful attack and sturdy defence that has yet to concede a goal. In contrast, the Koreans have leaked six goals in their last two matches.
"We admit we've let lots of goals in but we can make up for that by scoring two for every one we concede," said South Korea coach Huh Jung-moo.
He believes his team fully deserves its place in the knockout rounds and were determined to go further.
"All of our players are in the top 16 because of hard work and effort," he said. "We won't rest on our laurels, we want to make it to the top eight.
"The possibilities are open to everyone, the ball is always round. Italy, France can always be eliminated and small teams can always do well."comments