Patrice Evra, Ji-Sung Park and Wayne Rooney face crucial World Cup fixtures over the next two days. While Korea beat Greece, both Rooney and Evra suffered disappointing opening draws. Amid stories of fighting in the French camp and English press criticism, only Park’s Korea, who face Argentina today, play without pressure.
South Korea captain Park faces his good friend and former Manchester United team-mate Carlos Tevez today, as new tournament favourites Argentina look to build on a opening win over Nigeria. The lunchtime kick-off at Soccer City Johannesburg could go a long way to deciding which team wins Group B.
But friendship, which has remained despite the players now on opposite sides of the city, is set aside for the fixture, says the Korean.
“We have played together and I think it is great that we will play against each other, but this is not just a friendly, this is the greatest place to play football,” Park told Sky Sports.
“We are both adversaries for now and we will both be doing our best to win the game.
“We had two years together at Old Trafford and we know each other very well.
“If you know your opponent, you are going to tell your defenders what it will be like, so we are both in the same boat.”
Although fatigue may have played a part in the low-key opening fixtures, Park’s multiple injuries during the season mean he is fresher than most. It’s an advantage, says the 29-year-old winger.
“I think a lot of the European players are a little tired and may not be on top form, but I have rested well and had a good training schedule.
“I am at the top of my condition and physically I think I am very well-prepared.”
Meanwhile, French captain leads his side out against Mexico tonight in Polokwane, with United’s new striking recruit Javier Hernandéz on the opposite side. Despite stories of in-fighting and clashes with the team’s coach Raymond Domenech dominating the media, Evra insists that French spirit is high for the crucial Group A fixture.
Mexico drew its opening fixture against South Africa, while France failed to beat 10-man Uruguay. However, the South Americans’ 3-0 win over the hosts last night means that victory in today’s fixture is essential for both France and Mexico.
“I like to play within a very good team spirit,” said Evra, who was appointed to succeed Thierry Henry as France’s captain.
“I am always making sure that the group remains together and in good spirits and we remain friends, play closely together and are frank with one another so we don’t take our problems out onto the pitch.
“Since the first day you could feel this team was closely-knit and after each training session there are little gestures that cannot lie.”
Rooney, meanwhile, is under pressure to score having failed to hit the net since an early-April ankle injury hampered the end to the striker’s season. With a disappointing draw against the United States behind the team, pressure is mounting on both Rooney and Fabio Capello to deliver a result against Algeria in tomorrow evening’s Group D match.
“I’d like to score, but if I’m not scoring I’ll keep working until I do,” said Rooney, who has scored 25 times in 61 internationals.
“I don’t worry that much about it. We’ve got players in the team who can score goals. For us to do well, I need to play better than I did and to score goals, but I don’t feel under extra pressure.”
“It was difficult for me to play as well as I wanted after I got the injury against Bayern Munich. I played when I probably shouldn’t and lost my match fitness and sharpness.
“Even in Austria (during high altitude training) I had a few niggles and I held myself back but since we’ve come over here I’ve felt sharp and been flat out.
“When I was playing well and scoring goals earlier in the season I was sharp and hungry in training. That is how I feel at the minute.
“Of course I want to score. I don’t mind not scoring if we win but I know for us to win, it will be more or less down to me to score the goals, whether it is now or later in the competition.”
Rooney, rated as one of the finest players on the planet over the past 12 months, says the tournament is an opportunity to consolidate that view with some stand-out performances. So far other leading players such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká have failed to inspire in a low-key start to the tournament.
“This is a great opportunity for me to prove myself at world level,” added the 34-goal striker.
“I look at what Maradona and Pelé did. They took the World Cup by the scruff of the neck and virtually won it single-handed.
“If I can manage half of what they achieved, it would be great.”