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With Olympic football berth secured, focus shifts to 'wild-card' selection

All News 14:09 January 27, 2016

SEOUL, Jan. 27 (Yonhap) -- Now that South Korea have secured an Olympic men's football berth, the focus will soon shift to the selection of overage players for the quadrennial competition.

South Korea on Tuesday defeated Qatar 3-1 in the semifinals at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship in Doha. By reaching the final of the competition, which doubles as the regional Olympic qualifying tournament, South Korea clinched one of three Asian spots at this year's Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Olympic football tournament is open only to players under 23 -- born on or after Jan. 1, 1993, this time -- but teams can each have up to three overage players as their "wild cards" on the 18-man roster.

Wild cards can often be a double-edged sword. Experienced veterans can offer a quick fix to glaring needs and bring more stability to their team. On the other hand, they may end up disrupting team chemistry already established among younger players.

Head coach Shin Tae-yong would do well to study the success of the 2012 Olympic squad that captured the bronze medal in London. It was South Korea's first medal in Olympic football, men's or women's.

Hong Myung-bo, coaching the U-23 squad then, picked forward Park Chu-young, defensive back Kim Chang-soo and goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong as his wild cards. Hong's moves all paid dividends, in particular with Park, who scored the eventual winner in South Korea's 2-0 win over Japan in the bronze medal contest.

Park added a much-needed punch to the attack that had a wealth of midfield talent but lacked a go-to-guy in the goal scoring department. This year, Shin appears to be facing a similar dilemma. At the qualification tournament, midfielders have done all the scoring for South Korea, though striker Hwang Hee-chan, a promising 20-year-old, has been a major part of the attack with his creative and unselfish play.

Tottenham Hotspurs winger Son Heung-min, who turns 24 in July, seems to be a logical choice on offense as one of the country's most gifted goal scorers.

Since the Olympic matches aren't on FIFA's international match calendar, clubs aren't obliged to release their internationals. With the new Premier League season kicking off in the same month of August as the Olympics, getting the Spurs to agree to send Son may be the difficult part.

Winning an Olympic medal of any color will exempt South Korean male athletes from their mandatory military duties and taking care of that business in Rio will certainly be crucial to Son's club career -- a point that should be stressed to Tottenham brass.

On defense, a 25-year-old Jang Hyun-soo could add some versatility. He has played as a centerback, holding midfielder and right fullback on the senior national team to virtually equal degrees of effectiveness.

In net, Kim Dong-jun has been a steady presence so far in Doha, and coach Shin may not need to add a veteran to the picture.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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