Friendly vs. Syria final chance to impress Hong

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Friendly vs. Syria final chance to impress Hong


The Korea Olympic football team, led by coach Hong Myung-bo, will play a friendly against Syria at 8 p.m. tonight at Hwaseong Sports Complex in Gyeonggi before announcing the final roster for the London Games.

The Under-23 football team clinched its spot in the Olympics in February, the seventh consecutive and ninth overall time the Taegeuk Warriors have done so. Korea is in Group B with Mexico, Switzerland and Gabon.

Although the match is just a friendly, players have been training hard and are expected to give their best on the pitch because this is their last opportunity to make an impression before the Korea Football Association announces the final roster for the Olympics. Coach Hong has also heated up the competition by saying that “those in the starting lineup against Syria have not necessarily earned a spot on the final roster.”

Unlike the FIFA World Cup, in which a 23-man squad is required for tournament entry, only 18 players will be able to play in London. The deadline for submitting the final roster is July 6, only about a month away.

Nineteen players, most based in the K-League, are listed for the Syria match, but seven to nine are expected to be cut for the final squad because Hong can include players who are currently with the senior national team and three wild-card members (players over the age of 23).

Players such as Ki Sung-yueng (Celtic), Koo Ja-cheol (Augsburg), Ji Dong-won (Sunderland), Son Heung-min (Hamburg), Nam Tae-hee (Lekhwiya SC), Kim Bo-kyung (Cerezo Osaka) and Kim Young-kwon (Omija Ardija) are all under 23 years of age, but are now training with the senior national team, which is preparing for the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup against Qatar on Saturday and Lebanon on Tuesday.

Players said they have known they need to possess a do-or-die mindset to win Hong’s favor. For almost every player, competition is inevitable.

“I’m really determined and will play as if this match were my last.,” Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma midfielder Yoon Bitgaram said on Tuesday after a training session at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi. “Other players are thinking likewise, but I’m also feeling desperate.”

While players will be competing intensely for a ticket to London, Hong will have to figure out how to fill the void left by team captain Hong Jeong-ho’s absence.

The Jeju United central defender is almost certain to be left out from the final roster as he damaged the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He will be out for at least six months.

While rumors are circling that Hong will use a wild-card pick on Lee Jung-soo or Cho Yong-hyung to replace the 23-year-old in London, at least for Syria match, Jang Hyun-soo of FC Tokyo and Kim Ki-hee of Daegu FC will be on the pitch.

If Hong decides not to use a wildcard, one of these two players will likely play alongside Kim Young-kwon in the center line at the Olympics.

“I hope every player shows that they are ready and have the mindset to give it their all,” Hong said. “But they should not push themselves too far because that could be another stress for them. They should just keep their rhythm.”

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

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