Olympics squad hosts friendly matches

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Olympics squad hosts friendly matches

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Olympics football team manager Shin Tae-yong, far left, leads practice Monday at Incheon Munhak Stadium. The team will host Nigeria, Honduras and Denmark starting today in international friendlies. The matches are designed to provide Shin a chance to review his team before the Summer Games. [NEWSIS]

Korea’s Olympic football team will face their biggest challenges yet this week with about two months until the Summer Games kick off.

The U-23 squad, managed by Shin Tae-yong, will host three countries in international friendly matches starting today as part of final-stage preparations for the Olympics.

The Olympics football tournament is open to players under 23 years old. The Olympics committee also allows up to three players that exceed the age limit to compete as wild cards. Shin has already chosen Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur, although Son will be absent from the upcoming matches to participate in the national team’s own friendlies against Spain and the Czech Republic in Europe this week.

Korea will take on Nigeria at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon today. On June 4, Korea hosts Honduras at Goyang Stadium in Goyang, Geyonggi. For the grand finale, Korea goes up against Denmark on June 6 in Bucheon Stadium in Bucheon.

As all four teams that clash this week are qualified for the first stage of the Olympics, Shin and the Korean squad consider the matches as an opportunity to evaluate their preparedness. Shin also expects the three friendlies will provide a general idea for the coaching staff of what they need to work on before the Summer Games starts on August 4. Nigeria is in Group B, Honduras is in Group D and Denmark is in Group A. Korea’s team is in Group C along with Mexico, Germany and Fiji. If Korea makes it past the group stage, there is a chance that the Taeguk Warriors will face at least one of these upcoming competitors in the knockout stage.

While 23 players gathered prior to the upcoming friendlies, only 18 will be listed on the Olympics roster headed to Rio de Janeiro this summer. The kick off for the first match against Nigeria is scheduled for 8 p.m. tonight.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s U-23 team is currently at the top in the age group. After the team won its first gold at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, it claimed silver 12 years later in the Beijing Olympics. During the summer games in Beijing in 2008, Nigeria lost to Argentina in the finals by just one goal.

Although Nigeria failed to qualify for the London Olympics in 2012, it has returned better than ever after a big win over Algeria at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Africa U-23 Cup of Nations last year, which guaranteed their tickets to Rio.

Former Nigerian striker Samson Siasia, who led the team to silver in Beijing, is currently managing the squad. Siasia led the Nigerian U-23 team from 2007 to 2010 and returned back to the top post this year.

Starting forward Taiwo Awoniyi who played for FSV Frankfurt on loan from Liverpool is the player to watch. The rising star played in 14 games for Frankfurt and picked up one goal and one assist.

Against Nigeria, Korea holds three wins and no losses.

Honduras

Honduras is a great warmup for Korea ahead of its fight with Mexico in the Olympics group stage.

Honduras’ U-23 team qualified for the Olympics by placing second in the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) after Mexico. In the past nine games starting from August last year, the team has only lost on two occasions, both to Mexico.

Honduras’ Olympics team has played in three Olympics: Sydney in 2000, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. They performed best at the London Olympics in 2012, where they advanced to the quarterfinals.

This year, with Anthony Lozano at the helm, Honduras is hoping to make it to the knockout stage. Lozano currently plays for CD Tenerife in the Segunda Division, the second-highest division in the Spanish football, and is on loan from Honduras professional club Olimpia. This will be his second Summer Games. Internationally, Lozano scored five goals in 18 matches.

Against Honduras, Korea holds two wins and no losses.

Denmark

The match against Denmark will serve as a test bed for Shin’s strategy against Germany in the Olympics. Denmark’s U-23 team secured their tickets to Brazil after placing third in the 2015 UEFA U-21 Championship. In the group stage of that event in June 2015, the Denmark’s team was trounced by Germany 0-3.

The European team is coming to Korea with some of its star players.

Lucas Andersen, who plays for Willem II in the Netherlands, was considered a football prodigy, making his pro debut at the age of 16. As a midfielder loaned to Willem II from Jong Ajax, reserve team of Dutch professional football club AFC Ajax, Andersen netted nine goals.

Lasse Vigen Christensen also adds more depth for the team in the midfield. Playing for England’s Fulham, the 21-year-old has made appearances in 52 English Premier League matches and scored on six occasions.

Korea met with the Danish Olympic team three times in the past and lost one match while tying two.

BY SONG CHANG-WOO, CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]

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