Huh looks to defensive options to contain Serbs

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Huh looks to defensive options to contain Serbs

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Seol Ki-hyeon attempts to dribble past his Korean teammates during a practice session at Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham, Surrey, England on Monday. [YONHAP]

The national football team will attempt to extend their unbeaten streak to 28 games tonight in London tonight (11:30 p.m. kickoff, KST) but Eastern European power Serbia stands in their way.

Manager Huh Jung-moo and his men have posted a record of 14 wins and 13 draws in their past 27 games but tonight’s match figures to be one of the toughest tests to date.

Since taking over as Korea’s manager and losing his very first match against Chile by a single goal in a friendly last year, his team has not lost a game. The 1978-79 Korean squad holds the Asian record with 24 wins and four ties in a 28-game stretch.

Currently on a two-game European tour, Korea held Denmark to a scoreless draw earlier in the week. While Denmark was without seven of its regular players in the match due to injuries, manager Radomir Antic’s Serbian squad will be at full strength and its roster is loaded with talented players.

Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United and Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea anchor the defense. Leading the midfield line are Milan Jovanovic, Nenad Milijas, Dejan Stankovic and Milos Krasic. Nikola Zigic and Marko Pantelic will lead the attack for the White Eagles.

The Serbs are ranked 20th in the FIFA world ranking and placed first in their group in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Since the break up of Yugoslavia, Serbian football has not fared as well as the Croatian squads in international competitions.

However, the current Serb team boasts a lineup of young and talented players who play for some of the top clubs in Europe. Nemanja Vidic and Zoran Tosic play for Manchester United and Adem Ljajic is expected to join his teammates next season. Branislav Ivanovic has also emerged as a strong player for Chelsea.

Huh will attempt to counter the talented Serbian squad with a defense led by Lee young-pyo, Lee Jung-soo and Cha Du-ri. Defensive midfielders Cho Won-hee and Kim Nam-il will also play a key role in neutralizing the opposing offense. While the midfielders have played well of late, forwards Lee Dong-gook and Lee Keun-ho will have to create opportunities.

“Kim Jung-woo and Ki Sung-yeung are still competing for a spot in the starting lineup but the game against Serbia will be a good opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate the next player in line to fill a midfield position,” Huh said. “We will use Cho Won-hee and Kim Nam-il to fill the void left by Kim and Ki.”

Tonight’s game is Korea’s last friendly of the year and it could possibly be the last chance for Huh to test players who play their professional football abroad.

With the K-League postseason-bound players back in Korea, Huh will start seven players playing football abroad in the starting lineup tonight. The game will be a good chance for Huh to test his defense against a strong European squad that stormed through the World Cup qualifiers with 22 goals in 10 games. Likewise, players on the bubble like Cho, Kim and Lee Dong-gook can cement a place in the national team lineup with a strong showing tonight.

Cho Jung-yeon, the head of Korea Football Association, told the press in London yesterday the national team will set up their final training camp in Austria in mid-May next year. With the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the climate between the two countries will be vastly different but the training camp will allow Korean players to get adjusted in the same time zone as South Africa.

“Several other countries who are to compete in the World Cup will also make a stop in Austria to prep for the tourney,” Cho said.

Cho also said he met Lord Triesman of England’s Football Association to discuss the possibility of a friendly match between the two countries next spring. A friendly against England in March or May can develop if England draws an Asian country in the World Cup grouping.


By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]

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