SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Hong Myung-bo is already regarded as one of Asia's greatest players. If the 45-year-old former South Korea captain can guide his national team to the knockout stage of the World Cup, he'll take a significant step to becoming one of the continent's best ever coaches, too.
Hong is no stranger to success. The 2002 World Cup was his fourth as a player and the charismatic defender — dubbed the "Eternal Libero" by fans — was the captain of the team that made a run to the semifinals.
Hong was coach Guus Hiddink's lieutenant on the field that year, and the pair stayed in close contact — Hong joining forces with the veteran Dutchman for a six-month spell as assistant coach with Anzhi Makhackala in early 2013.
"Personally I have no major worries," Hong said of his first venture as a World Cup coach. "These days, we play on the world stage without any fear of the opposition. I don't really have a personal target as to how far we progress. It is more important that we perform as we are able and progress as far as we can."
A cool and composed defender, Hong enjoyed success with Pohang Steelers and then in Japan with Kashiwa Reysol before ending his playing career in 2004 after two seasons with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
A fine reader of the game, it was no surprise that Hong moved into coaching in 2005 as a member of the South Korean national team coaching staff under Dick Advocaat.
Advocaat departed following South Korea's first-round exit at the 2006 World Cup but Hong stayed on to serve under Pim Verbeek, helping the team to a third-place finish at the 2007 Asian Cup.
In early 2009, Hong became national youth team coach for the Under-20 World Cup and took South Korea to the quarterfinals. He subsequently took charge of the under-23 team in preparation for the 2012 Olympics and, using many of the same players, beat Britain en route to a bronze medal.
As Hong moved to Russia early in 2013, Choi Kang-hee led South Korea through a lackluster World Cup qualifying campaign. The team reached its eighth straight tournament on goal differential, but Choi stepped down immediately. Hong was appointed in July on a two-year contract, vowing to restore the fast, counter-attacking play that South Korean teams had become famed for.
Hong has had little time in charge but many of the current team played under him at youth level and the Olympics.
And there's no doubting that the team, as well as the country, loves Hong Myung-bo.
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