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By Eoghan Sweeney
Chief Football Writer
National team coach Guus Hiddink on Thursday defended Ahn Jung-hwan after the hero of South Korea's win over Italy was axed by Serie A club Perugia.
Club chairman Luciano Gaucci told Italian television on Tuesday night that Perugia would not be extending the South Korean player's contract, under which he is on loan from Pusan I.cons, before launching into a vitriolic diatribe accusing Ahn of having "ruined Italian football."
"Football is an increasingly international sport," Hiddink said. "Many players are playing in different countries.
"If for example Frank Leboeuf or Marcel Desailly were playing against England, do you think somebody could tell them to take it easy and not play well. You might as well just give up sports."
Hiddink conceded that Ahn had not been at the peak of his game while in Serie A, but said the player alone was not to blame for this.
"He did very well recently, and trained very well," he said. "He was not fit when he was with the club, but in this there is mutual responsibility between the player and the club.
Ahn, who has spent most of the past two seasons on the bench at Perugia, has scored two crucial goals for South Korea on their way to the quarterfinal, the sudden death extra-time winner against Italy and the equalizer in the 1-1 draw with the U.S.A.
As for his next step, Hiddink said this was entirely up to Ahn, although he did say he might give him some advice in private.
"It's his career," the head coach said. "He's done well up to now. Now he must look for a good follow-up."
For Spain, striker Raul has been struggling with a groin injury picked up in the win over the Republic of Ireland in the round of 16. Should the Real Madrid star recover sufficiently to play against South Korea, Hiddink said, he will have to be watched carefully.
Raul has a lot of class and experience," Hiddink admitted. "He's very smart and cold, especially in around the box.
Having played their round of 16 match earlier than South Korea, Spain will have had two more days' rest when the two sides meet in Kwangju (Gwangju) tomorrow to scrap for a place in the semifinals.
"In a competition as tough as this, that two days can make a big difference," Hiddink said. "They have some extra time to recover from injuries and rest.
Several firat-team players did not take part in training for South Korea, including Ahn Jung-hwan, but Hiddink said it was to give them some rest, and pledged to continue playing the kind of positive football that has drawn rave reviews.
"We hope to stick with making an attacking game for ourselves, but also for the fans," he said.
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