Taegeuk Warriors compete - with each other

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Taegeuk Warriors compete - with each other

Ahead of the upcoming World Cup preliminary match against Uzbekistan, the Taegeuk Warriors are in a fierce competition to secure a position on the Choi Kang-hee squad for the 2014 World Cup campaign.

Park Chu-young, a London Olympic star who recently moved from Arsenal to Spanish side Celta Vigo, substituted for Lee Dong-gook, a 33-year-old Jeonbuk Motors striker, in the second half of a practice match among the team members yesterday.

“Park has long been absent since the Olympics and he did not have much time for training due to a transfer,” Choi said.

Park, 27, has scored 53 goals in 113 matches on the youth and senior national teams since 2003. He returned to the senior team for the Uzbekistan match tomorrow night in Tashkent; his last appearance with the team was in February against Kuwait, Korea’s final match of the third preliminary round.

Choi said he was yet to determine whether to play Park against Uzbekistan, the third match of Korea’s fourth and final preliminary round. “Park Chu-young is showing a strong will to play. He has capability. [But] whether he will play or not will be determined depending on how he trains during the remaining time before the match.”

Kim Shin-wook, a 1.96-meter (six-foot-four) up-and-coming Ulsan Tigers striker who scored 10 goals in the first-half of the K-League, also played in the practice match as a substitute for Lee Keun-ho, another Tigers striker.

Coming off two straight victories - Korea beat Lebanon, 3-0, and Qatar, 4-1, in June - Choi drafted what he dubbed his strongest-ever roster as he seeks to secure Korea’s first-place standing ahead of the remaining final preliminary matches, including against Iran next month. Koo Ja-cheol of FC Augsburg, who was captain of the Korean Olympic squad, was out with an injury, but the team still has eight overseas players, including Ki Sung-yueng of Swansea City, Lee Chung-yong of Bolton and Kim Bo-kyung of Cardiff City.

Kim and Lee assumed left and right wing positions, respectively, during the practice match. Ki played in the defensive midfielder position.

Choi expressed confidence about the match with Uzbekistan, against which Korea is 7-1-1. Korea is 27th in the latest FIFA ranking announced early this month; Uzbekistan is 70th.

“The analysis of the opponents is over,” said Choi. “The players are in a good mood and condition.”

Uzbekistan, led by coach Mirjalol Qosimov, has used its wings to create goal chances in its previous preliminaries. Uzbekistan lost to Iran 1-0 and drew 1-1 with Lebanon in June. Three of the Uzbekistan players - Server Jeparov, Timur Kapadze and Aleksandr Geynrikh - played in the K-League last year.

Meanwhile, Park Jong-woo, who also made to the national team for the first time after he being the center of an international controversy at the London Olympics, was put into the game in the second half of the practice match, replacing Ha Dae-sung of FC Seoul. Park has not received his bronze medal after Korea’s 2-0 victory over Japan because he held up a banner reading, “Dokdo is our land,” referring to the Korean islets also claimed by Japan.

“Whether I can play or not, I am thinking a lot about how to help the team,” Park told reporters.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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