MARTIN O’Neill admits it is an unusual situation to be in this week – playing pre-season games with real importance.
But he says he has experienced the Peace Cup format before and believes the extra competitive element will only do his players good.
The phrase “meaningless friendlies” is often bandied about at this time of year to describe games where the fitness workout for Premier League footballers is far more important than the actual result.
But serious prize money is on the line for Sunderland in South Korea, with £500,000 coming the Black Cats’ way if they can beat Seongnam in the Suwon Stadium tomorrow.
And almost £1m will find its way into Sunderland’s coffers if they beat Seongnam and go on to win their second game, against either Hamburg or Groningen, in the same venue, on Sunday. “So, no pressure there then!” smiled O’Neill as he contemplated the start of the tournament.
But he does hope that Sunderland can at least win tomorrow night’s game to give him a chance of retaining the Peace Cup – won by his Aston Villa side, when the competition was last staged, in Spain in 2009.
He told the Echo: “We’ve got a lot of young players over here and a lot of senior players at home, which doesn’t help.
“It’s also a fact that we’ve only had a few days of pre-season training and Seongnam will be much further down the line than us in terms of their fitness.
“But it’s a game we’ll take very seriously – we’ll take it seriously because it’s a tournament, because our fans have travelled a long way to see us and because there are real rewards on offer if we make progress.
“I’ve got experience of a successful Peace Cup before – when Aston Villa beat Juventus in the final over a longer format three years ago in Spain. The players involved got a lot out of it.
“This time, there are only two games and I’m hoping we can produce the sort of performances which do us justice.
“We’re still in pre-season, so these games aren’t everything but it would be nice to show people in South Korea what we’re capable of and have a successful tournament in the process.
“At the moment, what there’s no doubt about, is that we want to win that first game. We want to get to the final.”
Seongnam play in every Peace Cup because they share the same sponsors as the Cup competition itself – the Unification Church.
They normally play in Seongnam, so technically, they’re playing away from home – the Suwon World Cup Stadium being the home of the Suwon Samsung Bluewings.
Founded in 1989, Seongnam is the most successful club in the country, having won a record seven league titles, two FA Cups, three League Cups and two AFC Champions League titles but their last one came in 2006.
In the other side of the draw, Hamburg are one of the oldest, best-known and most successful sides in Germany and are the only side never to be relegated from the Bundesliga.
In the Peace Cup, they face Dutch team Groningen, an Eredivisie side that has punched above its weight for many years.
Based in a town of fewer than 200,000 people, home is the Euroborg stadium which has a 22,500 capacity. They have finished in the top half of the division for most of the last half-dozen years but last season was disappointing with the Green and White army finishing in 14th place.