FEATURE: South Korea looking to put the Cha in Champion

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When Cha Du-ri takes to Stadium Australia on Saturday he will be just 90 minutes away from achieving something his legendary father never did during his illustrious career – winning the AFC Asian Cup.

Cha, the son of arguably ’s all-time greatest player Cha Bum-kun, is playing in what will be his last ever Asian Cup campaign and has proven an important member of Uli Stielike’s side.

His father came close to winning the title when he was part of South Korean side that made the final in 1972 against Iran. However a 108th minute goal in extra time by Hossein Kalani saw the Iranians seal their second continental title in succession.

Since making his debut in 2001 under Guus Hiddink, who plucked him from University to make his national team debut, Cha has had spells in and out of the national team set up and in the process has reinvented himself from a striker to one of the most attacking full backs in .

One man who knows him well is current national team captain Ki Sung-yueng, who played alongside Cha at Celtic between 2010 and 2012.

“You have to respect what he’s done for the Korean national team,” the Swansea City midfielder told the press today.

“Physically he’s one of the strongest players I’ve ever seen, and he’s one of the fastest players I’ve ever played with. When he was a little younger he was quicker than the ball.

“He contributed a lot of his quality to the national team. Every time he participated in the World Cup, he was in the semi final, and then [out of] the group stage in 2010.

Cha was born in Germany during his father’s time in the country with Eintracht Frankfurt and spent his formative years in country, before moving back to Korea as a 10-year-old when his father retired from football.

It’s no surprise then that when his professional career started that his first port of call was Germany at one of his father’s clubs – Bayer Leverkusen.

Seven clubs in 10 years followed, including spells with his father’s other club – Eintracht Frankfurt – as well as Mainz and Freiburg before making the move to Scotland to join Celtic and national team mate Ki Sung-yueng.

At the age of 32 and after eleven years in Europe he returned back to Korea, joining FC Seoul at the start of the 2013 K League Classic season.

At FC Seoul he played alongside striker Dejan Damjanovic as the Korean side made it to the 2013 AFC Champions League final, ultimately falling to China’s Guangzhou Evergrande on away goals.

Damjanovic, who now plays in China with Beijing Guoan, exudes positivity when he talks about Cha.

“Excellent player with unbelievable abilities,” was how the Montenegrin international described him.

“It was my pleasure and honour to play with him at FC Seoul.

“You can learn a lot of things from Cha. He is a real role model for the new generation.

“He is that guy who can push the team with his attitude and style of play.

“Always positive, professional with a smile on and off the pitch.”

It’s his form at FC Seoul in the last two years that earned him a recall to the national team late last year after the resignation of Hong Myung-bo following Korea’s disastrous World Cup campaign.

Despite recently signing a new one-year contract with FC Seoul, he announced during the K League Awards ceremony in December he would retire from international football after this year’s Asian Cup.

“For tomorrow, everyone on this team wants to give him a big lift because it’s his last game. We want to give him the gift of becoming a champion in Asia,” Ki said.

For a player who has given so much to Korean football, finishing his international career by lifting the trophy on Saturday night would be the most fitting way to bow out.