Hwang Hee-chan remains confident ahead of Iran qualifier
Wolverhampton Wanderers' forward Hwang Hee-chan and Suwon FC defender Park Min-gyu are training with the Korean national football team ahead of the final two qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Korea has already secured a place at the Qatar World Cup with 20 points putting it securely within the two qualifying spots at the top of Group A in the third round of Asia qualifiers. Yet despite having already qualified, head coach Paulo Bento has called up a full-strength squad for the final two games — against Iran on Thursday and the United Arab Emirates on March 29.
Wolves forward Hwang joins the Taeguk Warriors for the first time in four months and vows to win the qualifier against Iran, especially in front of Korean fans at Seoul World Cup Stadium in western Seoul.
“We all know as a team that this is a very important match,” Hwang said on Monday. “I think we prepared well because we have goals as a team and goals as individuals.”
Hwang suffered a hamstring injury against Brighton on Dec. 16 and had to sit out two Korean qualifiers earlier this year. After returning to the pitch on Feb. 13, Hwang was once again taken off with a possible injury on March 13 during a match against Everton. However, Hwang avoided another spell on the sidelines and returned to the team for a match against Leeds on Saturday.
"It was a simple bruise and it was okay after two or three days," said Hwang. “It's been a long time since we played in Korea and everyone will be focused on winning, and I think the results will naturally follow.
"We have confirmed our seat at the World Cup, but we still have two matches left against Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We aim to win both games to take the top of the group, and the players will do their best to make that happen."
Alongside Hwang, Suwon defender Park has joined the national team at Paju National Football Center and will be playing with the Taeguk Warriors for the first time.
“The coaches told me that I was expecting good news but I couldn’t believe it,” said Park on Monday. “I am still a bit dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe it until I entered the training center.”
Park is replacing Hong Chul of Daegu FC on the national team after Hong was injured.
"If I have a chance to play, I want to be able to prove to fans why I was selected for the national team," said Park. "I want to be able to play on the pitch for a long time and want to be recognized as a player who has good defense."
Park made his professional debut with FC Seoul in 2017 and joined Suwon in 2020. After being loaned to Busan iPark last season, he has started to emerge as a key player for Suwon this year.
“I have so much to learn,” said Park. “I want to learn everything, like how my teammates play and even how they live. I watch Kim Jin-su play a lot because we play the same position. I want to ask questions and get tips.”
Ahead of the first qualifier against Iran on Thursday, Paik Seung-ho and Kim Jin-kyu of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Jeong Woo-yeong of SC Freiburg and Na Sang-ho of FC Seoul were excluded from the team after testing positive for Covid-19. Their spots have been taken by Won Du-jae of Ulsan Hyundai, Nam Tae-hee of Al-Duhail, Cho Young-wook of FC Seoul and Ko Seung-beom of Gimcheon Sangmu.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]