Hamburg - FC Augsburg's Ja-Cheol Koo and Don Wong Ji held the upper hand in the South Korean showdown against Heung-Min Son and his Hamburger SV side on Matchday 26, their 2-1 away victory helping to narrow the gap on 15th-placed Fortuna Düsseldorf to five points.
Last season, Koo's five goals and two assists in the Rückrunde were instrumental in helping Augsburg avoid the drop, and on current form, it seems history is repeating itself. “We've just got to keep up our recent performances,” he told bundesliga.com.
Recent wins in Düsseldorf, Bremen and now Hamburg, as well as a relegation scalp over 1899 Hoffenheim, have seen Augsburg amass the third-highest points tally - 15 - of any side in 2013, a far cry from the nine they managed in the first half of the season. “We had a new coach and a new sporting director, so it took us a while to adapt,” says Koo of the team's Hinrunde performance.
After featuring for South Korea at the London Olympics in August, fatigue may have played its part for the man on loan from VfL Wolfsburg. He took part in full mid-season training over the winter break, though, and that could explain his and FCA’s transformation. “We prepared well for the second half of the season. A few players like Ji and [Andre] Hahn have been added to the squad and we're finally making better use of our strengths,” he said.
Room for improvement
Fear has also been eliminated from Augsburg’s game. They picked up just three points on their travels in the first half of the season but are now thriving on foreign turf. “We're much more confident when playing away from home now,” said Koo. “What we do now is say that we want to win it by any means possible and that we can achieve it. We showed precisely that desire in the Hamburg game.”
The fact that he had choice words for his own display shows just how hungry the 24-year-old is to maintain his current form. “I made a stupid mistake which almost allowed Son to score." That he was able to get one over on his international teammate was an extra reason to celebrate, although Koo evidently holds the HSV striker in high regard. "He has been developing superbly. Not only is he one of the greatest talents in South Korea, but also in the Bundesliga."
In Bavaria, though, Koo and Ji’s partnership has flourished since the latter’s loan arrival in January from English Premier League side Sunderland FC. "Ji is my best mate here in Augsburg,” said Koo. “We're out a lot together; we basically spend all our free time together. And speaking the same language helps us on the pitch as well.”
It's also a language that translates into goals, wins and points - just the recipe Augsburg need if they are to make it a third straight season in the top flight.
Bernie Reeves / Michael Reis