South Korea to feel pressure vs. 'European' Iran - Park Ji-Sung
Manchester United legend Park Ji-Sung has called upon South Korea fans to get behind their team against a "European" Iran in a vital 2018 AFC World Cup qualifier in Seoul on Aug. 31.
Coach Shin Tae-Yong called up English Premier League stars Son Heung-Min and Ki Sung-Yeung in his first squad on Monday. Games in the K-League have been cancelled on the weekend of Aug. 27 and 28 to give Shin more time with his players.
While Iran have already booked their spot in next year's tournament as they sit seven points clear at the top of Group A, the Koreans' grip on the second automatic qualification spot is tenuous.
Victory at Seoul World Cup Stadium will see Korea book a place at a ninth successive World Cup if Uzbekistan, a point behind in third, lose in China.
Otherwise, the Taeguk Warriors will travel to Uzbekistan for the final group game on Sep. 5, needing a result.
"In this situation, the players will feel heavy pressure," Park, who retired from the national team in 2011 after 100 appearances, told the Korea Football Association's official homepage on Thursday.
"But if they're national team players, they need to overcome the pressure and show their abilities."
A big crowd is expected in the capital for the visit of Iran. Fans have been disappointed by the team's performances of late. South Korea have lost three of the last four qualifiers.
Coach Shin, who led Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma to the 2010 AFC Champions League title, was appointed in July after the sacking of Uli Stielike.
"Football fans can criticise the national team, considering the results and performances that it showed, and the players are not free from this situation," Park added.
"However, I hope fans can cheer for our national team, and give them support at least in those two matches."
The Koreans have a poor record against Iran of late, losing their last four meetings. Park scored home and away against Team Melli in qualification for the 2010 World Cup, and acknowledged that the visitors are formidable opposition.
"Iran is in Asia, but the players' physiques are more like Europeans," the four-time English Premier League champion said. "They play rough and powerful football, so that's why opponents have a hard time."
Only the top two from the group progress automatically to the 2018 World Cup, with third place having to negotiate a play-off route.
John Duerden covers Asian football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.