May 23, 2010

SAITAMA, Japan (Reuters) -- When South Korea's inspirational captain Park Ji-sung steps out for his country at next month's World Cup in South Africa, the words of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson will be ringing in his ears.

The United midfielder has credited Ferguson for developing his game to the level where he has become the focal point for his national side.

"He believed in me and has given me more confidence to play against big teams," the track-suited Park told Reuters on Sunday on the eve of South Korea's World Cup warm-up against Japan.

"Mentally and physically, I have grown up since I joined Manchester United (in 2005). Ferguson said 'enjoy the World Cup and good luck' and told me not to come back injured.

"I'm feeling fine now. I've had a few days off after the season. I'm getting better so hopefully I'll be 100 percent at the World Cup."

Park, whose inspirational play helped South Korea reach the 2002 World Cup semifinals under Dutchman Guus Hiddink, believes it could do even better in South Africa.

"Our goal is to get to the second round," said the 29-year-old. "We're not thinking about anything further ... we are just concentrating on our group.

"What happened in 2002 was a great result for us. We know it was something like a miracle.

"It could happen again but the percentage of it happening isn't high so we just concentrate on the second round and after that nobody knows what can happen in the tournament."

He added that the squad was more balanced this year compared to those who were selected eight years ago.

"Our team is very well organized -- we have a good mix of young and experienced players," he said.

"Hopefully once we get through this World Cup we can compare (favorably) with the 2002 World Cup."

Park said playing Japan was the perfect way to gauge the shape of the South Korean side before they play Greece, Argentina and Nigeria in Group B at the World Cup, which begins on June 11.

"It will be a good game because the atmosphere it is very different from normal games," he said. "Games against Japan have more feeling than other friendly games."

South Korea has notched 33 wins to Japan's 10 in their previous 61 meetings, its last victory coming the East Asian championship earlier this year.

Park said the novelty of the fierce rivals clashing with their full compliment of Europe-based players would add spice to a game which is rarely for the faint-hearted.

"It's quite a long time since we've had this kind of match with Japan -- some players missed out," he said.

"Hopefully my experience will help, but we've played a few games against Japan and the last game was just a few months ago so everybody knows what to expect."

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