Toffee-whipped Koreans look to avoid a sticky end

South Korea's performance at the last World Cup was so poor that the players were pelted with toffees on their return.

It was the ultimate humiliation for the former semi-finalists, who will be hoping to avoid a similarly sticky end this time.

A gross insult in Korea, "Go suck on a toffee!" translates loosely as "Screw you!" -- and the Taeguk Warriors deserved criticism after crashing out in the first round with just one point from three games.

But they will need to summon the spirit of 2002 if they are to advance to the knockout stage in Russia after a cruel draw matched them against World Cup holders Germany, Mexico and Sweden.

"I think we will have to beat Sweden if we want to get to the last 16," said South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong, looking ahead to his side's opening game in Nizhny Novgorod on June 18.

"We've waited a long time for this World Cup."

Shin has been christened the "Asian Mourinho" and the 49-year-old former international midfielder may well need to park the bus in Russia.

In snake-hipped Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-Min, the Koreans have a world-class player and potential match-winner.

But in truth they are a shadow of the team who famously reached the semi-finals as 2002 World Cup co-hosts when their astonishing run sparked hysteria and turned the players and Dutch coach Guus Hiddink into national heroes.

Son himself was scathing of the team's chances after last week's 3-1 friendly defeat by Bosnia-Herzegovina.

- 'Nowhere near good enough' -

"This is nowhere near good enough to compete at the World Cup," he fumed.

"We are past the point where we can apologise after a loss and say we will do better next time. The players must show more fight."

South Korea partially atoned for their Brazil flop when their under-23s ended a 28-year gold medal drought at the Asian Games in 2015.

Shin then steered them to the East Asian title last year, thrashing fierce rivals Japan 4-1 along the way -- always a sure-fire way to win over fans.

But the road to Russia has been a rocky one for the Koreans as they made unnecessarily hard work of qualifying.

German Uli Stielike was fired and replaced by Shin, who just about got them over the line.

South Korea do possess quality, not least in captain Ki Sung-yueng, Red Bull Salzburg striker Hwang Hee-chan and battering ram forward Kim Shin-wook.

Although heavy underdogs, Ki issued a rallying cry before the team jetting off to their training camp in Austria.

"We need to play this World Cup with a bit more desperation," he told local media. "I hope the players will think about the importance of the World Cup for their careers."

But as Italy -- who themselves were pelted with tomatoes after being knocked out of the 1966 World Cup by North Korea -- will attest: you have to be in it to win it.

The Koreans at least have a fighting chance.