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(LEAD) Europe-based youngsters named to Olympic football team for Nov. friendlies

All News 11:47 November 02, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 12-18, photos)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 2 (Yonhap) -- The 25-man roster for the South Korean Olympic football squad ahead of November friendly matches was unveiled Monday, featuring a few youngsters based in Europe.

Head coach Kim Hak-bum will take these under-23 players to Egypt for a friendly tournament, where they will face Egypt at 8 p.m. on Nov. 12 (or 3 a.m. Nov. 13 in Seoul) and then take on Brazil at 3 p.m. on Nov. 14 (10 p.m. Nov. 14 in Seoul). Both matches will be played at Cairo International Stadium. South Korea had initially been scheduled to Saudi Arabia after Egypt, but Saudi Arabia pulled out of the tournament on Monday.

South Korea, Egypt and Brazil have all qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, which had been scheduled to be held in July this year but was postponed to next year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kim Hak-bum, head coach of the South Korean men's Olympic football team, speaks at a press conference at the Korea Football Association House in Seoul on Nov. 2, 2020. (Yonhap)

These will be the first international matches for the U-23 national team since January, when they won the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship to book a spot in the Olympics.

They did play the South Korean men's senior national team in two exhibition matches earlier this month.

The midfielder corps features Lee Seung-woo of Sint-Truiden in Belgium, Paik Seung-ho of Darmstadt 98 in Germany, and Kim Jung-min of Vitoria S.C. in Spain.

These three are considered among the most talented Korean players in this age group. They have all appeared for the senior national team, too.

Up front, two more Germany-based players have been called up: Jeong Woo-yeong of SC Freiburg and Cheon Seong-hoon of FC Augsburg's reserve squad are among seven forwards.

Lee Jae-ik of the Belgian side Royal Antwerp FC and Kim Hyun-woo of Croatian club NK Istra 1961 are among eight defenders.

Ahn Joon-soo of Cerezo Osaka is one of three goalkeepers.

This photo captured from the Twitter page of the Belgian football club Sint-Truiden shows their South Korean player Lee Seung-woo in action on Aug. 24, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"We've been trying to schedule matches all year, and we almost gave up hope for this year until this opportunity (in Egypt) came up," Kim Hak-bum said. "Egypt and Brazil should be among the top teams in the Olympics, and it will be a great test for us."

Few of these Europe-based players are getting regular action with their clubs, but that didn't prevent Kim from selecting them. He said this could be his last opportunity before the Olympics to see them in person.

"They may not be playing much, but they still have upsides," Kim said. "I want to see firsthand how competitive they can be (for the Olympics) and how well they can play with our current crop of (domestic-based) players."

It will be a quick turnaround from the first match to the next, and Kim may have to field two entirely different starting lineups.

The coach said he'll make that decision once he sees how well Europe-based players respond to their opportunity.

"Under normal circumstances, everyone would get an opportunity to play," Kim said. "But I haven't seen any of the guys coming from Europe. I'll have to see them in training first. If they're well off form, then it'll be tough for me to play them."

Kim said he won't worry too much about the results in Egypt.

"We'll only get better if we get knocked around by these powerful teams," Kim said. "Regardless of final scores, this trip will be an opportunity for us to identify what we need to work on and get ready for our next matches."

In this file photo from May 31, 2019, Kim Jung-min of South Korea (L) dribbles the ball against Argentina during the teams' Group F match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Tychy Stadium in Tychy, Poland. (Yonhap)

The remaining spots on the team were filled with players from the K League 1, whose season ended Sunday.

The champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are sending two players: forward Cho Gue-sung, who scored both goals in the team's title-clinching 2-0 win over Daegu FC on Sunday, and goalkeeper Song Bum-keun, who tied for the league lead with 11 clean sheets this season.

Pohang Steelers' Song Min-kyu, who earned his first national team call-up in any age bracket for October exhibition matches, will make his official international debut in Egypt. Song scored 10 goals this year to rank second among all South Korean players.

Coach Kim left out players from clubs in the second-tier K League 2 that could play in the promotion playoffs later this month.

Cho Gue-sung of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors celebrates his goal against Daegu FC during a K League 1 match at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul, on Nov. 1, 2020. (Yonhap)

Teams that finish third and fourth will meet in the first playoff match on Nov. 25. The winner will then go on to meet the No. 2 seed in the final playoff on Nov. 29.

With one match left, Suwon FC are sitting in second place (51 points), followed by Seoul E-Land (38 points) and Jeonnam Dragons (37 points). Gyeongnam FC are right behind Jeonnam with 36. Daejeon Hana Citizen also have 36, but they have played one fewer match than the other contenders because one of their players tested positive for COVID-19 last week and their scheduled match got postponed.

In this file photo from Nov. 15, 2019, Paik Seung-ho of South Korea (R) takes a shot against Bahrain in a friendly match at Rashid Stadium in Dubai. (Yonhap)


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