PORT ELIZABETH, June 10 – South Korea and Greece open Group B hostilities here on Saturday anxious to get precious points on the board with Argentina and Nigeria facing off later up in Ellis Park.
While by no means one of the first round glamour games an intriguing clash of styles is nevertheless in store at the brand new Nelson Mandela Bay stadium overlooking the Indian Ocean for this early kick-off.
Speed and astute tactical awareness are the calling cards of a Korean side that tore up the World Cup formbook when making it through to the semi-finals in 2002.
Greece, who also turned football’s natural order on its head when belying their status as rank outsiders to waltz off with Euro 2004, will be relying on their height advantage and set-piece superiority.
South Korea’s splendid showing on home turf six years ago has inevitably led to the cranking up of expectations from their supporters, expectations that Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng has tried to dampen.
"Since Korea got to the semi-final in 2002, many people expect the same result," he said.
"I was in Australia at the time, I was 13 and just a fan then. No one in Korea expected the national team to go to the semi-final so now the expectations are too much.
"But we will try our best and our squad is getting stronger. If we try our best we can qualify for the group stage and then who knows, we could maybe go onto the quarter-final."
Greece came crashing down to earth after the madness of Euro 2004.
Otto Rehhagel’s side failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup (where the Koreans went out in the first round), and then put up a limp defence of their European crown in 2008.
After a wobbly start to qualifying for South Africa they hit form and sealed their ticket with a notable play-off success over 2006 quarter-finalists Ukraine.
They, like their Asian opponents, are desperate to emerge from this fixture with three points to have a chance of joining expected Group B winners Argentina in the last 16.
Panathinaikos defender Nikos Spyropoulos, speaking at the team’s training headquarters near Durban, admitted: "As everybody knows, the first match is the crunch match. It’s essential to get a winning result."
Midfielder Christos Patsatzoglou echoed that, saying: "We know we have a key game against South Korea. If we win, we are in a position to try to qualify for the next round."
The Cyprus-based Patsatzoglou identified Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung as the Koreans’ main threat.
He said: "We’ve seen lots of DVDs of South Korea, Park is definitely their top player."
Former Middlesbrough striker Lee Dong-Gook will likely be joining Park in attack after recovering from a hamstring injury quicker than expected.
Greece will be without Vangelis Moras, the Bologna defender, who misses the game after failing to recover from an ankle injury sustained in training.
The Greek team can expect to feel at home in Port Elizabeth where a vociferous 1,000-strong expat community is preparing a warm welcome.
A near capacity 48,000-crowd is expected for this the first of eight World Cup fixtures in Port Elizabeth.
Key to match
If Bayer Leverkusen forward Theo Gekas, top scorer in European qualifying, set piece specialist Giorgios Karagounis and this pair’s towering teammate and star of Euro 2004 Angelos Charisteas are on form, South Korea are likely to find the going tough.