Korea vs. Costa Rica TODAY in L.A.

January 25, 2014

5 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum 

Korea vs. Costa Rica match in L.A. is getting a lot of interest from the Hispanic community also as both nations' flags are hanging outside of one local soccer shop. (Park Sang-hyuk)

Korea vs. Costa Rica match in L.A. is getting a lot of interest from the Hispanic communityas both nations’ flags are hanging outside of one local soccer shop. (Park Sang-hyuk)


South Korea will play its first international football match of 2014 today against Costa Rica on Saturday in Los Angeles. It’s the first of three contests scheduled against FIFA World Cup participants in the United States leading up to Brazil.

The two countries will square off at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at 5 p.m. on Saturday in LA, or 10 a.m. on Sunday in South Korea.

South Korea opened its first overseas training camp of the year in Brazil last week and arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday to begin preparing for tune-up matches. After Costa Rica, South Korea will face Mexico in San Antonio next week, and then the United States in Carson, California.

Head coach Hong Myung-bo called up 23 players from South Korean, Japanese and Chinese leagues for the camp. Star players in European leagues didn’t make the trip, with clubs there under no obligation to release their internationals for the occasion. About a dozen players from Europe are expected to make the final World Cup team, leaving another dozen or so spots up for grabs among Asia-based players.

Midfielder Ha Dae-sung of Beijing Guoan has been sent home with a right calf injury, but 22 other players are trying to make a strong impression on Hong.

South Korea is currently at 53rd in the latest FIFA rankings, 21 spots below Costa Rica. The two have split their six meetings so far, with two wins, two losses and two draws apiece. In the most recent clash, Costa Rica prevailed 1-0 in February 2006.

Hong will likely juggle his lineup in all three upcoming matches and try different formations to see which of the Asian league players will be a good fit at the World Cup. “Winning this game is secondary,” Hong said. “It’s more important to execute what we’ve been practicing. If we lose, then it will be a chance for us to review our training methods and make necessary adjustments.”

Up front, Kim Shin-wook of Ulsan Hyundai, second in goals in the domestic K League Classic last year, has stepped up his game in recent international contests. He appears to have the inside track in the race for the World Cup roster spot as the top striker, with no other viable option from foreign leagues.

On wings, Son Heung-min of Bayer Leverkusen and Bolton Wanderers’ Lee Chung-yong are sure bets to make the World Cup team. They’re not attending the camp, leaving Suwon Bluewings’ Yeom Ki-hun, who played at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and FC Seoul’s Go Yo-han to compete to make the tournament as backups.

Ki Sung-yueng of Sunderland has been sensational since his move from Swansea City on a loan and has virtually locked down a spot on the World Cup team as the holding midfielder. At least two K League Classic players in the camp, Park Jong-woo of Busan and Lee Myoung-joo of Pohang, will try to become Ki’s sidekick in Brazil.

On defense, Hong Jeong-ho of FC Augsburg and Kim Young-gwon of Guangzhou Evergrande have been the starting center backs in recent matches. With the duo away from the current camp, Kim Joo-young of FC Seoul and Kang Min-soo of Ulsan Hyundai will be among those auditioning for the job.

It’s more wide open for fullbacks, where players from Europe and Asia will be in competition.  Kim Jin-su of Albirex Niigata and Lee Yong of Ulsan Hyundai will try to gain an upper hand on Park Joo-ho of Mainz 05 as he’s currently with his German club.

Suwon’s Jung Sung-ryong, the starting goalkeeper at the 2010 World Cup, and Ulsan’s Kim Seung-gyu will be battling for the No. 1 custodian spot. (Yonhap)