Park hoping it's third time lucky at Wembley

LONDON - Park Ji-sung was overlooked in Moscow in 2008, lost in Rome in 2009 and hopes it will be third time lucky when Manchester United face Barcelona in the Champions League Final at Wembley on Saturday.

The 30-year-old South Korean midfielder, who was the first Asian to compete in a Champions League Final in 2009, will be attempting to become the first to collect a winners medal in Saturday's showdown.

If he does it will put the crowning glory on an already glittering career which shows no signs of abating at club level, although he retired from the South Korea team after winning his 100th cap at the Asian Cup in January.

Feted throughouth Asia and virtually worshipped in his home country, it took a while for Park to win over fans in Europe.

Initially booed at PSV Eindhoven he was soon being praised as the Dutch team's best player and, after a long, steady climb at United following his arrival in 2005, his remarkable contribution is now universally acknowledged.

Low key on and off the field he has nevertheless developed into a vital cog in the United machine, relentlessly breaking up oppostion attacks and, increasingly, using the ball with deadly efficiency to send his team-mates on the offensive.

After missing three months of this season with a hamstring injury, Park returned to the United side at the beginning of April and has been in the form of his life since.

He scored the match-winning goal in the 2-1 Champions League success over Chelsea at Old Trafford and was the key man in their pivotal Premier League win over them earlier this month.

Park is a manager's dream not only for his remarkable fitness and tenacity and the way he rarely loses the ball but in his ability to follow instructions and function efficiently in he heat of battle.

"There are some players you can normally rely on to keep a cool head and Park Ji-sung is one of them," said Sir Alex Ferguson, who described leaving Park out of the 2008 final squad as the toughest decision of his career.

A certain starter on Saturday, Park will be tasked with disrupting the rhythm of Barca's free-passing midfield as well as seeking to tie down Lionel Messi when he runs from deep.

"I don't know yet if I've been singled out for a special role in the match," said Park. "Maybe after the final I will be tired, but that's my role in the game, to run a lot.

"Messi is one of the best players in the world. One against one, you can't stop him so we have to stop him as a team."

Park showed as part of the South Korea side that stunned football by going all the way to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup and beating Italy and Spain en route that reputations count for nothing in his eyes.

"We are not scared of Barcelona," he said. "We will have to play to our strengths to beat them, they are one of the best teams in the world, but we have our own quality."


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