Black Stars in Jeonju as Cho looks to test Ji

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Black Stars in Jeonju as Cho looks to test Ji


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 []

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