South Korea & Japan optimistic despite draw

SINGAPORE - South Korea and Japan remain confident of reaching the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup finals despite being handed tricky group stage draws.

South Korea, fourth at the 2002 World Cup, were drawn in Group B on Friday with former winners Argentina, Euro 2004 winners Greece and Nigeria.

"I believe that we have a chance," South Korean coach Huh Jung-moo told reporters after the draw.

"All groups seem difficult and I've been ready to face a tough group. I will prepare well to achieve our goal to advance to the last 16 on foreign soil."

Apart from 2002, when they jointly hosted the finals with Japan, South Korea have failed to reach the knockout stages in six attempts.

South Korea begin their campaign in South Africa against Greece in Port Elizabeth on June 12, before facing Argentina on June 17 in Johannesburg and Nigeria in Durban on June 22.

Japan were drawn in Group E with Netherlands, Euro 92 winners Denmark and four-times African Nations Cup winners Cameroon.

Despite the tricky draw, and Japan's failure to win a World Cup finals match on foreign soil, coach Takeshi Okada was confident they could make the semi-finals.

"It will be the fourth World Cup finals for Japan and we are aiming for a top-four spot," Okada said.

"We don't intend to change our goal and we continue to aim for a top-four spot."


However, former coach Ivica Osim, who had to step down due to illness in 2007, dampened Okada's optimistic prediction.

"The bigger the expectations, the bigger the disappointment," the Bosnian told Japanese media.

"Japan is capable of pulling off a surprise but to get to where Japan is trying to go they will need a trampoline."

The Blue Samurai start their campaign against Cameroon in Bloemfontein on June 14 followed by matches against the Dutch in Durban on June 19 and Denmark in Rustenburg on June 24.

Should Japan make it through the group a meeting with holders Italy is likely to await them in the round of 16.

Rank outsiders North Korea, making their first appearance at the finals since 1966, were given the toughest draw of the three Northeast Asian sides in Group G.

North Korea open with a mouth-watering match against five-times champions Brazil at Ellis Park on June 15 before facing Portugal in Cape Town on June 21 and finishing the group against Ivory Coast in Nelspruit four days later.

Australia, the fourth team to qualify from the Asia zone, were drawn in a difficult Group D with Germany, Ghana and Serbia.

The 2010 finals run from June 11 to July 11.