Black Stars in Jeonju as Cho looks to test Ji

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Black Stars in Jeonju as Cho looks to test Ji

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Through two recent retirees, the Korean national football team has found itself with two big holes. The absences of Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo have left manager Cho Kwang-rae with a headache and he has just one more game to find the right combination of players before the World Cup qualifiers start in September (a friendly schedule against Japan in August will likely not include overseas-based players).

Cho used the friendly against Serbia on Friday to test out a new defensive line, specifically looking to fill the gap left by Lee at left back and although tonight’s game against Ghana in Jeonju, North Jeolla, will offer another opportunity for those defensive players to impress once more, Korea will also test its new offensive tactics.

The key player of the new offense will likely be Chunnam Dragons striker Ji Dong-won. Cho announced on Sunday that he would start Ji in left midfield, the position left vacant by Park, who retired from the national team after the Asian Cup in January.

Cho said that even though striker is Ji’s natural position, playing him as a left winger will not be awkward for the team. The 20-year-old has played several games on the left flank in the Asian Cup and the K-League.

“Ji has the ability to play as a left midfielder,” Cho said after team training on Sunday. “I have already played him on the left side in the Asian Cup when Park was not playing.”

Cho also said he expects Ji’s movement to be more like that of a second striker, a role in which a player needs to move forward to the center rather than staying on the left flank.

“[Right winger] Lee Chung-yong moves wide, so the left winger should move to the center and carry out the role of the second striker,” said Cho. “That is why I am planning to start Ji against Ghana.”

Cho also hopes changing Ji’s position will bring frequent switching plays in attack with front striker and team captain Park Chu-young. Park, who plays for French club AS Monaco, can play in any attacking position.

“Just like Park Ji-sung played with Park Chu-young, I expect shifts between Ji and Park,” said Cho. “They will lead the team’s attack.”

Ji is confident that he can do the job well. The Chunnam player successfully filled the void left by Park Chu-young (right-knee injury) in the Asian Cup by scoring four goals, but this time he knows his role is to support and play behind the AS Monaco striker.

“I played a lot in the center but it’s no problem on the flanks,” Ji told Ilgan Sports, the JoongAng Ilbo’s daily sports newspaper. “What’s important is getting the win but I will try to score goals and get assists.”

Ji also knows he has now inherited the Park Ji-sung’s position. The young attacker currently has five goals and three assists in 10 internationals for Cho’s team, the best record among any player since Cho took charge of the team, but admits his recent performances can’t be compared to Korean football great Park Ji-sung.

“I have no pressure on me [in this game],” said Ji. “I know I can’t play like Park but I will show my own style.”

For Ji, playing against Ghana is also a great opportunity for him to put himself in the “shop window.” The forward has been recently linked with English club Sunderland AFC but some football pundits and fans are worried about his ability against world class teams. Although Ji has played 10 international matches, most of them were against Asian countries. So facing 15th-ranked Ghana will be a good stage for him to show off his abilities.

Ghana, even without key players like Michael Essien and John Mensah, will still be the strongest team Ji will have ever played against.

“I agree with people’s opinions that the game against Ghana will be a good opportunity for me to show clubs overseas what I can do.” Ji said.

Because of Ji’s move, other left midfield candidates - Koo Ja-cheol and Kim Bo-kyung - will move to center midfield.

Koo, who played 12 minutes as a second-half substitute against Serbia, was expected to get another chance to play on the left, but the Wolfsburg midfielder will probably be playing in his natural center midfield position.

“I don’t think he plays well at the flanks,” Cho said. “But I believe he will play best at Kim Jung-woo’s position.”

Another left midfield candidate, Kim Bo-kyung, could also play in the center, but according to Cho, he might move him to the right wing, depending on how the game goes.


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [일간스포츠]
조광래 감독 “박지성 빈자리는 지동원-이근호”

조광래 대표팀 감독은 6일 전주월드컵경기장에서 열린 가나전 공식인터뷰에서 "강력한 압박"을 강조했다.

-지동원을 어떻게 활용할 것인가.

"왼쪽 공격수로 선발출전시킬 것이다. 박주영의 움직임에 따라 지동원이 중앙으로 들어가는 등 다양한 공격을 만들 수 있을 것으로 예상한다."

-월드컵 예선을 앞두고 사실상 마지막 시험 무대다. 박지성의 빈 자리를 어떻게 메울 것인가.

"지동원과 이근호를 염두에 두고 있다. 공격에 초점을 맞추기 위해서는 세컨드 스트라이커 역할을 할 수 있는 선수가 적합하다. 둘 다 상당히 기대하고 있다."

-구자철은 어떻게 되나.

"내일 전반에는 투입하지 않을 것이다. 아직 컨디션이 정상이 아니다. 그런 상태에서 경기하면 부상당할 수 있다. 무리하지 않고 후반에 투입하겠다. (후반에 들어가면) 중앙 공격형 미드필더 포지션으로 활용할 생각이다."

-가나가 세르비아보다 강하다. 수비 라인에는 어떤 지시를 내렸나.

"개인 능력보다 전체적인 수비 조직력을 강조하는 게 우리 팀이 나아가야 할 방향이다. 가나가 강한 팀이라 더욱 앞에서 포어체킹을 시도하겠다. 개인 기술이 강하기 때문에 압박을 통해 상대를 사이드로 몰아서 경기하겠다. 상대가 기술이 있다고 수비가 물러나면 오히려 상대가 기량을 더 발휘할 수 있다. 더 강하게 압박하겠다."
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