PORT ELIZABETH - South Korea's defeated team wasted no time in converting their pain into pride after Saturday's World Cup elimination by Uruguay, vowing to return to the next tournament a stronger side capable of beating anyone.
The Koreans lost 2-1 in a game in which at times they dominated, battling to the end for a win that would have put them in their first World Cup quarter-finals on foreign soil.
"I'm really happy with the boys," said Scotland-based midfielder Ki Sung-yong. "We showed that Asian football is good enough to play against the world."
Coach Huh Jung-moo admitted his team had much room for improvement, especially in defence, but said he was proud of his talented players' spirit and determination.
"They never give up, whatever the situation. They always rise up to the challenge, that kind of tenacity comes from Koreans and I really want to congratulate them," coach Hun Mong-joo said.
"I do feel quite hopeful because our players are improving year-on-year and the game is getting better and that is something that I can complement.
"We are growing, but on the other hand we have areas to improve on. It's very important for the players to learn more from international teams by playing in foreign leagues."
Captain Park Ji-sung, who has become the most successful Asian football export after five years with English giants Manchester United, echoed his coach's views on the importance of having South Korean players at European clubs.
Park is one of six members of the squad currently playing in Europe and has long said that was the reason for the team's confidence and staggering improvement in the last few years.
"It was a great chance to reach the next stage, but in a World Cup everyone is strong," Park said. "We know have to have more players in Asia playing in Europe. That would make the Asian teams stronger."
South Korea have been heavyweights in the Asian game, winning the Asian Cup twice, appearing in eight World Cups and reaching the semi-finals as co-hosts in 2002.
But it was their performances in South Africa that could serve as a bigger springboard for future success. Although sloppy in defence, their counter-attacking skill, quick passing and phenomenal fitness has been a major worry for their opponents.
"They surprised us with their style and approach. They also determined the physical conditions and the way we played the match," said Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez.
"They imposed their style, they tired us out. Our victory was hard fought and we had to struggle hard.
"We can see how football in Korea has grown," he said.comments