By Joo Kyung-don
SEOUL, March 14 (Yonhap) -- By excluding one of South Korea's biggest football stars from his roster announced Monday, senior men's national team head coach Uli Stielike actually wants to help the country's football on a much deeper level.
For South Korea's squad for the second round Asian qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup against Lebanon on March 24 and a friendly match in Thailand on March 27, there was a small surprise: Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min was missing.
It turns out Stielike's intention was to help both the South Korea under-23 football team and the player at the Olympics.
"I think in your life, you have to look for win-win situation," Stielike said. "Hopefully, this is the case for Son Heung-min and Korean football."
Both the Olympic team, led by head coach Shin Tae-yong, and Son want each other. Stielike just wants to bridge them.
South Korea already confirmed their Olympic spot in January after finishing second at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship. But to ensure a better result in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the team plans to use more experienced players like Son.
The Olympic football tournament is open to players under the age of 23 at the start of the Olympic year, and teams can each field up to three players who are over that limit as "wild cards."
Son is also determined to play at the Summer Games, but there is a hurdle: professional clubs are not mandated to release players over 23 for the Olympics. Son turns 24 on July 8, about a month before the Olympics kick off.
To solve this problem, Stielike stepped up as a helper. He agreed not to call up Son this time for the World Cup qualifiers so the Korea Football Association (KFA) could ask Tottenham to release Son for the Olympics later. Stielike wanted the Olympic team to use the player when he is most needed.
"We've asked Tottenham to make Son available for the Olympics as a wild card, and in exchange, we offered not to select him for matches in March," the coach said.
The Olympic team coach Shin, who is also an assistant to Stielike on the senior team, is just thankful that his boss has allowed him to use one of the country's best young footballers for his team.
"After we played against Qatar (at the AFC U-23 Championship), I talked with Stielike about Son's selection and he cared so much about our team," Shin said. "I asked for his cooperation in using wild card candidates for both teams, and Stielike accepted it gladly."
Shin believes that Son, who has 16 goals in 46 appearances for South Korea, can help the Olympic team with his offensive talents as a wild card.
The former Bayer Leverkusen attacker will also be motivated because an Olympic medal has an extra bonus for South Korean male athletes -- an exemption from mandatory military service.
Son already lost his chance to play at the Summer Games, failing to join the 2012 team that won the bronze medal in London. He had to watch as fellow players celebrated their medal and also their military exemptions.
"I think he is the best South Korean football player at this moment," Shin said. "Although we don't know how he will mingle with other players in the final squad, he will execute his job well."
Stielike, who led South Korea to 16 wins in 20 matches with just one loss in 2015, has been maintaining a close relationship with the South Korean Olympic team. The former Switzerland and Ivory Coast head coach also watched the Olympic team matches at the AFC U-23 Championship in Qatar to check out future stars.
"We have built a good cooperative relationship between the senior national team and the Olympic team," Stielike said. "Kwon Chang-hoon is also a core member for our senior team, but since the Olympic team needs big support, we have let Kwon play for the Olympic team (for March friendlies)."
But there are still some areas where Stielike and Shin will have to make adjustments. The senior team will have a friendly match against world No. 3 Spain on June 1 in Austria, and Stielike wants three wild card members from the Olympic team, who will most likely be from those who also play on senior team, to join their friendly. The Olympic team is also planning to have friendlies around that period, but it isn't yet clear where the tune-up matches for the Rio Games will be held.
"Personally, if the Olympic team can also have friendlies in Europe, I hope all these wild card members feature against Spain before playing the Olympic team friendly matches," Stielike said.
But even if the situation doesn't turn out as Stielike plans, Shin believes that the 61-year-old will make concessions for his U-23 team.
"It will create a big synergy if we can go Europe, but that hasn't been decided yet," Shin said. "Since we have the Rio Games ahead of us at that time, Stielike will yield (players) for us."
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