LONDON - Park Ji-sung was overlooked in
Moscow in 2008, lost in Rome in 2009 and hopes it will be third
time lucky when Manchester United face Barcelona in the
Champions League Final at Wembley on Saturday.
The 30-year-old South Korean midfielder, who was the first
Asian to compete in a Champions League Final in 2009, will be
attempting to become the first to collect a winners medal in
If he does it will put the crowning glory on an already
glittering career which shows no signs of abating at club level,
although he retired from the South Korea team after winning his
100th cap at the Asian Cup in January.
Feted throughouth Asia and virtually worshipped in his home
country, it took a while for Park to win over fans in Europe.
Initially booed at PSV Eindhoven he was soon being praised
as the Dutch team's best player and, after a long, steady climb
at United following his arrival in 2005, his remarkable
contribution is now universally acknowledged.
Low key on and off the field he has nevertheless developed
into a vital cog in the United machine, relentlessly breaking up
oppostion attacks and, increasingly, using the ball with deadly
efficiency to send his team-mates on the offensive.
After missing three months of this season with a hamstring
injury, Park returned to the United side at the beginning of
April and has been in the form of his life since.
He scored the match-winning goal in the 2-1 Champions League
success over Chelsea at Old Trafford and was the key man in
their pivotal Premier League win over them earlier this month.
Park is a manager's dream not only for his remarkable
fitness and tenacity and the way he rarely loses the ball but in
his ability to follow instructions and function efficiently in
he heat of battle.
"There are some players you can normally rely on to keep a
cool head and Park Ji-sung is one of them," said Sir Alex Ferguson,
who described leaving Park out of the 2008 final squad as the
toughest decision of his career.
A certain starter on Saturday, Park will be tasked with
disrupting the rhythm of Barca's free-passing midfield as well
as seeking to tie down Lionel Messi when he runs from deep.
"I don't know yet if I've been singled out for a special
role in the match," said Park. "Maybe after the final I will be
tired, but that's my role in the game, to run a lot.
"Messi is one of the best players in the world. One against
one, you can't stop him so we have to stop him as a team."
Park showed as part of the South Korea side that stunned
football by going all the way to the semi-finals of the 2002 World
Cup and beating Italy and Spain en route that reputations count
for nothing in his eyes.
"We are not scared of Barcelona," he said. "We will have to
play to our strengths to beat them, they are one of the best
teams in the world, but we have our own quality."
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