"Don't think about 2002!" Former captain Koo Ja-cheol calls on South Korea to create new World Cup history

An integral figure in the past two South Korea outfits that graced the FIFA World Cup, Koo Ja-Cheol has urged this year's team to move past the burden of trying to emulate the historic side that finished fourth in 2002. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

DOHA, Qatar -- Any mention of South Korea and the FIFA World Cup will inevitably lead back to 2002.

A memorable fourth-place finish -- which remains the best result of any Asian nation -- on home soil in the first World Cup to be played in Asia, of course that achievement from two decades ago continues to live on, especially in the hearts of many South Korean fans.

But having such a result to look back fondly on can act as a double-edged sword.

Expectations can lead to pressure. Hope can also become a burden.

And that is why, as South Korea edge closer to the start of this year's World Cup, former star midfielder Koo Ja-cheol -- who captained them at the 2014 edition -- does not want the current team to even think about emulating the previous generation.

"Actually, I don't like to speak about the 2002 World Cup history of Korea," he told ESPN, after being chanced upon at the team's training session on Friday with Koo currently in Qatar working as a pundit for South Korean television.

"Yeah, it was a really great experience for the people but, for the players, I felt that (the achievement of) this World Cup always gives pressure.

"It's a really good experience for the Korean people but it's already been a long time. I hope the players just try to enjoy, know how it's the biggest honour to play in a World Cup and try their best."

With South Korea looking to reach the knockout round for the first time since 2010, Koo is aware that it is imperative they get off to a good start against Uruguay on Nov. 24.

Four years ago, the Taegeuk Warriors' campaign was effectively over after they began with two losses, meaning even a stunning 2-0 win over then-champions Germany on the final day was futile.

"Realistically, we wish to pass through the group stage - this is our target," stated the former Wolfsburg, Augsburg and Mainz man -- who spent nine seasons in the Bundesliga.

"But before (thinking about) this target, we need to get three points. The first win is most important because, in our past World Cups, whenever we had three points from the first game, we passed through the group stage.

"I hope the players can repeat this history in this moment."

Plenty of talk has revolved around a former teammate of Koo's in Tottenham ace Son Heung-min, who is recovering from a facial injury and was constantly seen adjusting his mask at training on Friday.

Son is undoubtedly the star for the Taegeuk Warriors both they also boast a couple of young guns coming through in Mallorca's Lee Kang-in and Freiburg's Jeong Woo-yeong -- both of whom Koo believes can have an impact at the World Cup despite their tender years.

"They will learn and they will get some special experience (that will have longer-term benefit) for Korean football," added Koo, when asked what the promising duo could expect to get out from the World Cup.

"But they are already big names. We can say they're young but Lee Kang-In and Jeong Woo-yeong have already been playing in Europe for a few years in LaLiga and the Bundesliga (respectively).

"They already have experience perhaps much more than players that have only played in Korea, so they will help the team a lot, show their qualities and show who Lee Kang-in and Jeong Woo-yeong are."