(World Cup) Striker disappears from biggest stage with spotlight turned on

2014/06/28 09:00

By Yoo Jee-ho

SAO PAULO, Brazil, June 27 (Yonhap) -- For years, forward Park Chu-young has been one of the most polarizing figures in South Korean sports.

For all the momentous goals he's scored at international events, including the winner that brought home an Olympic bronze two years ago, Park has also angered the public with his decision to delay the mandatory military service. Known as a friendly and warm-hearted teammate with a wry sense of humor, Park has kept a decidedly contrasting public facade, often aloof, brooding and standoffish with the media.

Park was also the most controversial selection to the World Cup team this year. He had seen virtually no action at club level in the past season and with head coach Hong Myung-bo insistent that only those getting regular minutes in their leagues would be selected, Park appeared to be a long shot at best.

South Korean forward Park Chu-young watches action from the bench during his team's 1-0 loss to Belgium at the FIFA World Cup in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on June 26, 2014. (Yonhap)

South Korean forward Park Chu-young watches action from the bench during his team's 1-0 loss to Belgium at the FIFA World Cup in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on June 26, 2014. (Yonhap)

Hong made an exception and said Park was the best striker available in the pool. Hong was hoping Park, who has shown much flair for the dramatic, would come through on the biggest stage when the spotlight would be the brightest.

Yet the scenario didn't quite play out the way South Korea had envisioned.

Park was largely ineffective in the first two matches, recording no shot in 56 minutes against Russia and one shot in 58 minutes against Algeria.

Hong, who has long been a staunch supporter of the much-maligned player, said Park did an admirable work on defense in those matches. Cynical fans jumped on the opportunity and dubbed Park the team's best "defensive striker."

   After South Korea dropped the second match to Algeria 4-2, Hong came under immense pressure to make lineup changes, in particular on offense. On the eve of the group stage finale against Belgium, a match that would seal South Korea's fate in Brazil, Hong was peppered about his thoughts on Park's play.

Hong explained that Park was the one player who "maintained balance" for the team in the debacle of a match against Algeria, hinting that he would stick to Park as the featured striker for at least another match.

The coach, though, finally caved in and benched Park to start the match against Belgium Thursday. The player stayed there the rest of the match.

Park turns 29 early July and with his English club Arsenal having announced Park won't be retained after his deal expires at the end of June, his future in European club football remains murky at best. It's also likely that, given his history of nagging injuries and declining skills, Park may have played his final World Cup.

The controversy surrounding Park's presence on the national team reached a point where it became a source of distraction for the team, captain Koo Ja-cheol said in the aftermath of the loss to Belgium.

"There was simply too much focus placed on Chu-young, and I think it did have an impact on the team," Koo said. "He tried harder than anyone else. I really hoped he would score a goal, and it's really a shame that he didn't."