AFC U-23 squad revealed with space left open for Europe-based player

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AFC U-23 squad revealed with space left open for Europe-based player

Korea on Tuesday announced a 22-man roster for the upcoming Olympic men’s football qualifying tournament, leaving one spot open with hopes of filling it with a Europe-based player.


Members of the U-22 Korean national football team train at the Gangneung Sports Complex in Gangneung, Gangwon, on Monday. [YONHAP]

The Korea Football Association (KFA) unveiled the squad for the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship, which will run from Jan. 8-26 in Thailand. That event will also serve as the Asian qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Coached by veteran tactician Kim Hak-bum, the Korean squad will feature goalkeeper Song Bum-keun, the starting custodian for the three-time reigning K League 1 champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Lee Dong-jun, voted MVP of the second-division K League 2 while playing for Busan IPark, is one of 10 midfielders.

Joining Lee in midfield is Jeong Woo-yeong of the German side SC Freiburg.

The AFC tournament isn’t on the FIFA match calendar, and clubs aren’t obliged to release their international players for the occasion. Coach Kim and the KFA have been in talks with Spanish club Valencia CF over the release of midfielder Lee Kang-in and with German outfit SV Darmstadt 98 to have midfielder Paik Seung-ho in the fold as well.

Both Lee and Paik have played for the senior national team. Lee, 18, also starred for the under-20 national team this year, leading Korea to the final at the FIFA U-20 World Cup and winning the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.

Kim said before Monday’s practice that he and the KFA will continue their push until the last minute. The deadline to submit the final 23-man roster is Sunday.

The top three teams from the AFC tournament will reach the Tokyo Olympics. With Japan having already qualified as the host country, if they reach the semifinals, the three other semifinalists will be guaranteed spots in the Olympics without having to play the third-place contest.

In Thailand, Korea will face Uzbekistan, China and Iran in Group C. There are four groups of four, and the top two from each will move on to the quarterfinals.

Kim’s team will depart for Malaysia on Saturday to set up a training camp there and will play practice matches against Saudi Arabia on New Year’s Eve and Australia on Jan. 3.

Korea will then fly to Thailand on Jan. 5 and play their first Group C match against China on Jan. 9 at 8:15 p.m. local time, or 10:15 p.m. in Seoul.

The second match will be against Iran on Jan. 12, and Korea will close out the group stage against Uzbekistan on Jan. 15. Both of those matches will kick off at 5:15 p.m. local time.

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