Football team begins path to Rio

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Football team begins path to Rio

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Korea Under-23 men’s football team coach Shin Tae-yong watches players at Al-Gharafa training field in Doha, Qatar, on Monday. [KOREA FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION]

As the Korean Under-23 men’s football team prepares for its first match of the Asian qualifiers for the 2016 Summer Games, coach Shin Tae-yong said on Monday that there should be no difficulty securing an Olympic spot.

Korea’s first match of the 2016 Asian Football Confederation Under-23 Championships will be against Uzbekistan at Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Wednesday local time.

The young Taegeuk Warriors are in Group C, where they will also have to face Yemen on Jan. 16 and Iraq on Jan. 19. The top two countries in the group advance to the quarterfinals, and the top three countries in this 16-nation tournament will earn their tickets to Brazil.

Korea is looking for its eighth consecutive Olympics since 1988. In the 2012 Olympics in London, Korea won its first Olympic medal in football by getting a bronze medal. Despite the high stakes, coach Shin said he does not feel any pressure.

“I feel good as the tournament approaches,” Shin told reporters after finishing the team’s first official training session on Monday. “I don’t feel tension but excitement. I believe in our players.”

Before landing in Qatar, Shin’s squad had two prep matches against the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in Dubai last week. Korea defeated the UAE 2-0, but had a scoreless draw against Saudi Arabia, which raised concerns among some football fans about the team’s performance.

However, Shin, who is also assistant coach for Korea’s senior national football team under coach Uli Stielike, said the friendlies last week were all about testing tactics and players, and this tournament is the chance to show the team’s strength.

“There is nothing to hide right now,” he said. “The match against Uzbekistan is real and we must win. We will present our best 11 for the first time.”

Shin has been testing a 4-4-2 formation along with a 4-3-3 formation and emphasizing offense to the players. Analysts expect that Shin’s main tactics will based on a 4-4-2 formation, with two overseas-based players leading the attack.

Striker Hwang Hee-chan, who plays for Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg, and attacking midfielder Ryu Seung-woo, who is with German club Bayer Leverkusen, are expected to be up front, backed up by Kwon Chang-hoon who has been the engine of the midfield.

“I feel responsibility as the tournament is starting,” 19-year-old Hwang said. “I don’t think about becoming a top scorer. What’s important is that our team should be in the top three to win the Olympic ticket.”

Kwon, who plays for the Suwon Samsung Bluewings, is expected to cover the middle along with defensive midfielder Park Yong-woo, as well as with Lee Chang-min and Moon Chang-jin.

Shim Sang-min, Song Ju-hun, Yeon Jei-min and Lee Seul-chan will comprise the four backs, while Kim Dong-jun is expected to be goalkeeper for the match against Uzbekistan.

Shin, who led the K-League club Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma to win the AFC Champions League in 2010, said one of his concerns is that the players don’t have enough experience playing in the Middle East.

KFA technical committee chief Lee Yong-soo, who will serve as general manager for Korea in this event, said he doesn’t doubt Korea will grab the ticket to the Summer Games. Since 1992, Korea hasn’t lost a single match in the final round of the Asian Olympic qualifiers, collecting 21 wins and eight draws.

“If the team failed to reach the final, then Korean fans have to watch the third-place match with their hearts trembling,” Lee said.

“I hope the team reaches the final so that fans can watch comfortably and enjoy the match without a concern [about going to the Olympics.]”

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]

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