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S. Korea coach says China not easy opponents in World Cup qualifier

All Headlines 19:48 August 29, 2016

By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, Aug. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea football head coach Uli Stielike said Monday China will not be easy opponents in their upcoming World Cup qualifier, though his team has had the neighbors' number for years.

South Korea, 48th in the latest world rankings, will host No. 78 China at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Thursday to open the final Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

South Korea, looking for their ninth consecutive World Cup appearance, have only one loss against China in their 30 previous meetings. However, Stielike warned that the past should not misguide them.

"There are no easy teams in the final round," he said before the team's training session at Seoul World Cup Stadium. "China have recently pulled up their FIFA rankings and they are a competitive team."

China have been preparing thoroughly for their opener against South Korea. Gao Hongbo's side, which will arrive in South Korea later Monday, already had a team training session in Shenyang last week, but South Korea just have three days to train before the match. Stielike, however, was confident of winning.

"We don't have enough time, but on the match day, we will have to play like a team that has been working together for three months," he said. "Some players are with the team for the first time, but the rest of them have played together for a long time."

On the 20-man squad, only three players -- Kwon Chang-hoon, Lee Jae-sung and Lee Yong -- are from the top-flight K League Classic. Some fans raised the criticism that Stielike prefers footballers in foreign leagues to those who play at home, but the German said this isn't true.

"I don't want to get into the debate about my selection," he said. "I hope our players overcome the controversy about their selection (by showing their best performance.)"

Stielike said he had recently visited China and watched pro league matches. Last week he was seen watching the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League quarterfinals between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Shanghai SIPG in Shanghai.

"Chinese teams are investing a lot on their foreign player signings, but I think this doesn't have a direct influence on the development of the Chinese national team," he said. "But if their investments have a clear purpose and can be made continuously, I think it's a different story."

On his roster, four defenders -- Kim Young-gwon, Jang Hyun-soo, Hong Jeong-ho and Kim Kee-hee -- play in the Chinese Super League. Defensive midfielder Jung Woo-young is with Chinese club Chongqing Lifan. Stielike said he will get information on Chinese players from them.

"They play with Chinese national members on their clubs," he said. "I will have a lot of conversations with them."

Stielike recently dropped striker Suk Hyun-jun from the roster since he needs time to adapt to his new club Trabzonspor after leaving FC Porto. The coach said Suk's void can be filled by Hwang Hee-chan of FC Red Bull Salzburg, as well as Ji Dong-won and Koo Ja-cheol, teammates on FC Augsburg in the Bundelisga.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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