By Narae Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - Guus Hiddink, who led South Korea to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals, threw his support behind his former skipper Hong Myung-bo on Wednesday and said the new coach had put the Asian side on the right track after a horrid 2014 qualifying campaign.
Hiddink, who resigned as coach of Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala in July and has been touted as a candidate for the vacant Australia job, is still worshipped in South Korea, where statues were built and a stadium named after him.
Speaking to reporters at a lunch meeting with some of the players from his 2002 side, which became the first Asian team to reach the last four of a World Cup, Hiddink said it was important to play adventurous football in Brazil next year.
The Koreans lost 2-0 to the World Cup hosts in a friendly on Saturday before beating Mali 3-1 on Tuesday.
"I saw in the game with Brazil ... they (Korea) are eager to go and play attractive football," he said. "We don't like to see a scared, defense-oriented team.
"If we see a Korea which is very adventurous, the whole world will recognise them. Maybe you are not going to the final but people all over the world will say: 'I'd like to see this team.'"
Tuesday's game against the African side was Hong's eighth in charge after he took over from the much-maligned Choi Kang-hee.
While Hong's team have won just two of those games, Hiddink said choosing to pit themselves against top quality opposition such as Brazil and Croatia would help them progress.
Korea stumbled across the finishing line to qualify for the 2014 World Cup finals, edging out Uzbekistan on goal difference for an automatic spot following a 1-0 home loss to Iran in the last group game.
"I know Myung-bo as a player, as a captain of a successful team, also in recent months he was helping me when I was coaching in Russia so I know him even better," said Dutchman Hiddink.
"I think they have chosen the right way to make the team strong. You can pick out easy games and win and the whole of Korea will go like: 'Oh we are ready to play in the World Cup!', which is not true. You are fooling yourself.
"I think the best way is to have players experience strong opposition such as Brazil."
While some in Korea have been calling for Hiddink to return to the national team to help Hong in Brazil, the 66-year-old ruled out a return.
"I'm ageing. Ageing!" he said. "I'm having sabbatical months."
Joining Hiddink and Hong at the lunch were other members of the 2002 squad including Seol Ki-hyun, Yoo Sang-chul and goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae, whose heroics in the quarter-final against Spain put the Koreans into the last four.
"Korea is still heavily influenced by coach Hiddink," said Hong. "Back then we had a definite result and achieved success.
"We should not forget what our strong points were back then and should continue to work on them.
"Our team is not perfect but there have been a lot of changes. I will incorporate his advice into keeping our team in a good direction."
(Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)