Stripped-back Taeguk Warriors to take on Iceland on Saturday

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Stripped-back Taeguk Warriors to take on Iceland on Saturday

The Korean national team train at the Cornelia Diamond Golf Resort Spa in Antalya, Turkey on Tuesday. [NEWS1]

The Korean national team train at the Cornelia Diamond Golf Resort Spa in Antalya, Turkey on Tuesday. [NEWS1]

 
A stripped-back Korean squad will take on Iceland in the first of two friendlies on Saturday before the 2022 World Cup qualifiers resume at the end of the month.
 
The Taeguk Warriors will take on Iceland at the Mardan Sports Complex in Antalya, Turkey at 2 p.m. on Saturday, or at 8 p.m. in Korea. The match is the first of two friendlies scheduled before World Cup qualifiers resume, with Korea also taking on Moldova on Jan. 21.
 
The Korean squad for those two friendlies will be made up exclusively of players from the Korean and Japanese leagues, where the new season hasn't started yet. With the international break not scheduled to begin until Jan. 24, the Europe-based players that normally make up the backbone of the national squad were not called up for the friendlies.
 
Those players will be added to the squad when qualifiers resume on Jan. 27. Until then, their absence offers a chance for some younger or often overlooked players to show head coach Paulo Bento that they have what it takes to wear the Taeguk mark on a more regular basis.
 
That opportunity to impress Bento could be more important than ever for these two friendlies, as Korea's Portuguese head coach will likely have to find replacements for two of the national teams most important goal scorers for the upcoming qualifiers.
 
Tottenham Hotspur manager Antonio Conte confirmed Tuesday that Son Heung-min is expected to be out with a muscle injury until after the international break, presumably implying that Son will not be fit to captain the Taeguk Warriors for the qualifiers, against Lebanon on Jan. 27 and Syria on Feb. 1. Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers is also out with a hamstring injury, opening up a spot in the Korean attacking line.
 
Bento's squad for the friendlies includes four goalkeepers, 10 defenders, 10 midfielders and three forwards. Of those players, midfielders Kim Dae-won of Gangwon FC, Kim Jin-gyu of K League 2 club Busan IPark and Eom Ji-sung of Gwangju FC were all called up for senior national duty for the first time.
 
Despite the stripped back and, in places, untested squad, both friendlies ought to provide comfortable tune-up opportunities for world No. 33 Korea. 
 
With Iceland ranked at No. 62 on the official FIFA world ranking and Moldova trailing at No. 181, Bento should be able to focus on trying out some unseasoned players and working on tactics and technical skills without having to worry too much about avoiding an embarrassing loss.

BY JIM BULLEY [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]
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