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Defender tapped as 'wild card' for S. Korean Olympic football team

All News 14:07 June 02, 2016

SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) -- Defender Jang Hyun-soo has been tapped as a "wild card" for the South Korean men's football team for the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Summer Games, an official from the Korea Football Association (KFA) said Thursday.

The men's Olympic football tournament of 16 nations is open to players under the age of 23, but teams can also field up to three players who are over the age limit, known as wild cards. South Korean head coach Shin Tae-yong has already said he would pick Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min, who turns 24 in July, as one of the three, and has hinted he'll use the two remaining wild-card spots on defensive backs. He has refused to identify candidates.

According to the KFA official, Jang's Chinese club, Guangzhou R&F, recently agreed to make the 24-year-old player available for the Rio Games. Since Olympic football is not organized by FIFA, professional clubs are not mandated to release players over 23 for the Olympics, and those who want to participate in the quadrennial event need to have permission from their clubs.

However, the official said that Guangzhou's consent doesn't mean Jang has agreed to be a wild card. Shin plans to unveil his final 18-man squad on June 27 and will call up players in early July to prepare for the Rio Games. However, Guangzhou R&F reportedly told the KFA that they will release Jang in late July.

"It's difficult to say that Jang's selection is confirmed at the moment because both sides have a difference in the timing of his release," the KFA official told Yonhap News Agency on the condition of anonymity.

Shin also said on Monday he is frustrated about the wild-card selection as nothing has been confirmed and hinted that there could be a change of plans if the KFA's talks with foreign clubs aren't going well.

Jang, who can play center back, right back and defensive midfielder, has been with Guangzhou R&F since 2014. He has three goals in 25 matches for South Korea and was named the MVP of the 2015 East Asian Football Federation East Asian Cup after the country won the title.

For South Korean male athletes, winning an Olympic medal or grabbing a gold medal at the Asian Games will allow them an exemption from the mandatory military service. Footballers who haven't completed their military service have been considered top wild-card candidates because they will likely have extra motivation.

Jang has already earned his military exemption by captaining South Korea to the 2014 Asian Games gold medal in Incheon. But Shin has previously said he will persuade even those who have completed their service to play hard for the team.

Jang has never competed at the Olympics. He was previously listed on the final squad for the 2012 London Games, where South Korea went on to win the bronze medal but was dropped at the last minute due to a left knee injury.

The former FC Tokyo defender is currently traveling with the senior national team in Europe for friendly matches. He played 70 minutes in South Korea's 6-1 defeat against Spain on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena in Salzburg, Austria. South Korea will next play the Czech Republic Sunday in Prague.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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