Heavy hitters called up for upcoming World Cup qualifiers
Korean national team head coach Paulo Bento on Monday called up six additional players to join the Taeguk Warriors for two World Cup qualifiers that start at the end of the month.
The Korea Football Association on Monday announced that Kim Min-jae of Fenerbahce, Lee Jae-sung of Mainz, Jung Woo-young of Al Sadd, Jeong Woo-yeong of SC Freiburg, Hwang In-beom of Rubin Kazan and Hwang Ui-jo of Bordeaux had all been called up to join the national team for two world cup qualifiers against Lebanon on Jan. 27 and Syria on Feb. 1.
All six are regular national team players but were not called up to the current stripped-back version of the squad due to club commitments. Korea is currently playing a series of friendlies with a team made up exclusively of K League and J League players ahead of the international break. That squad beat Iceland 5-1 on Saturday.
Noticeably missing from the announcement are Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur and Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The two Premier League players are currently both out with injuries — Son with an unnamed muscle injury and Hwang with a hamstring injury — and are not expected to be available for international duty.
Rather than outright exclude the Premier League pair, however, the KFA announcement just delayed the decision on Son and Hwang, saying it will be made at a later date.
The KFA said that after Korea plays its second friendly against Moldova on Friday, some players will be sent home to make room for the additional players. The announcement did not say which players would be dropped, and Bento may refrain from making that decision until after he has watched their individual performance on Friday.
Korea currently sits in second place in Group A in the third round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, with the top two teams from each group earning a ticket to Qatar and the third teams advancing to another round of qualifiers.
With six of 10 games played, Korea has 14 points, sitting just behind Iran with 16 and well ahead of the United Arab Emirates with six. Korea have four wins and two draws — against Iraq and Iran — in the tournament so far and started the second leg strong with a 3-0 win over Iraq on Nov. 16 last year.
After facing Lebanon and Syria, Korea will take on Iran on March 24 and the United Arab Emirates on March 29 to round off the qualifiers.
While Korea and Iran look extremely likely to qualify, the race in Group B is a lot tighter. Saudi Arabia leads the group with 16 points, followed by Japan with 12 points and Australia with 11 points. Outside of the top three, Oman trail with seven points and China with five, leaving five teams in convention for a World Cup spot.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]