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Familiar Sight Is Around Corner

Group D: U.S. will rely on scouting of assistant coach Sarachan in crucial game against South Korea.

June 09, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DAEGU, South Korea — The way Dave Sarachan figures it, he has watched more South Korean soccer in the last few months than the South Koreans themselves.

"I've gotten to the point where I can see their players' pictures and know their full names, which is pretty good because there are a number of names that repeat," Sarachan said Saturday.

Knowing the Koreans and being able to defeat them are two vastly different things, but the U.S. assistant coach's knowledge will be called on frequently Monday when the U.S. plays South Korea at Daegu in a crucial World Cup match for both teams.

Sarachan, a former player and coach at Cornell, was assigned by Coach Bruce Arena to become an expert on South Korea's team. It's something he has been working on since November, and he has a good feel for the Korean players.

"Since January, they have become a better attacking team," he said. "They're a much more positive team. They believe in the system and they believe in themselves, so they're playing with confidence."

They are also playing for a Dutch coach who took the Netherlands to the semifinals of the France '98 World Cup and who has become as widely recognized a personality in South Korea as anyone in the country.

Guus Hiddink's photograph appears daily in nearly every newspaper. Television advertisements feature him prominently. He is shadowed wherever he goes by a media circus, with reporters hanging on his every word.

When South Korea played Poland at Busan last week, there was a 50-foot red banner with white letters two feet high decorating the upper deck of the stadium. Its message was clear:

"HIDDINK MAKE OUR DREAM COME TRUE"

That's the sort of pressure that the Dutchman has on his shoulders, the dream of an entire nation that wants to see 48 years of World Cup frustration erased.

The fervor began when South Korea held England to a 1-1 tie in a warmup game and grew greater when it came close to upsetting world champion France, before falling, 3-2, on a late goal in another warmup.

Scenes from the latter match were shown time and again on television, at least until they were replaced by something better: scenes from South Korea's 2-0 victory over Poland, a result that ended a 14-game winless streak in the World Cup.

South Korea has speed throughout, excellent finishing ability and a fitness level that should allow it to endure the searing temperature of an afternoon match in South Korea's hottest city.

And then there are the fans. More than 62,000 of them will pack the stadium Monday, all wearing red T-shirts with the "Be the Reds" slogan on the front. The Red Devils' fan group has become so large and so influential that 45 of its members were invited to a luncheon Friday by Kim Dae-Jung, the nation's president.

Sarachan said there are several keys for the U.S to prevail.

"I think we need to do a good job of possession," he said. "Watching them against Poland, Poland didn't do a good job in that respect. So I think possession is important.

"I think we have to manage the game well in terms of the pace of the game. Heat is going to be a factor. But I think the heat doesn't always play into the hands of teams that pride themselves in being a relentless, tireless workhorse. So that will help us.

"If we get caught up in a speed-versus-speed mentality, it favors them a little bit."

As for the crowd, Sarachan said an early goal by the U.S. should make the fans less of a factor.

"Our whole idea against Portugal was to make sure that we got in at halftime either even or ahead," he said. "We're going to have the same mentality on Monday."

Both teams have hinted at lineup changes, but both coaches are being coy.

"I think in our sport and at this level against these opponents, you have to be willing to make adjustments, even if you've won with one team, to give you more of an advantage against the next opponent," Sarachan said.

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