Training camp opens for S. Korea ahead of Nov. World Cup qualifiers

November 8, 2021

The South Korean men’s national football opened training camp Monday ahead of two World Cup qualifying matches this month.

Players reported to the National Football Center (NFC) in Paju, just north of Seoul in Gyeonggi Province, for a three-day camp before they host the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday. South Korea will then face Iraq on Nov. 16 in Qatar as a neutral venue.

Head coach Paulo Bento named his 25-man roster last Monday, and three Europe-based players who just completed their club obligations over the weekend, including Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur, will join the national team Tuesday.

Since the final qualification round began in September, Bento has not had the luxury of a full roster from the onset of camp.

In each of the past two months, Bento opened camps on a Monday, and Son and other players coming in from Europe weren’t able to join the team on time because of their club matches. Bento then ran only one or two training sessions with the full squad before playing the team’s first matches in those months.

Bento said Monday that he’s just going to roll with the punches without dwelling on what he doesn’t have.

“It is what it is. We need to manage this in the best possible way,” Bento told reporters at the NFC. “We’ll help (Europe-based players) recover as well as possible (from their weekend action and long flights) and respect their time to recover. Then on Wednesday, we’ll try to prepare the best possible strategy for the game (against the UAE).”

The UAE match will be South Korea’s fifth Group A contest in the final round of the Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

South Korea currently sit second in the group with eight points, two points back of Iran with six matches to play.

The top two nations from each of the two groups will punch their tickets to Qatar. The two third-place teams will meet in a playoff, and the winner will go on to compete in the last-chance intercontinental playoff.

South Korea have played at every World Cup since 1986.

The UAE are winless so far with three draws and one loss, but Bento said last week the UAE will force South Korea to shore up their defense with “very good principles” on offense.

South Korea have 12 wins, five draws and two losses against the UAE so far. Their most recent meeting, a friendly in June 2015, ended in a 3-0 South Korean victory.

South Korea will be without striker Hwang Ui-jo and center back Kim Young-gwon for this month, with both veterans recovering from hamstring and calf injuries, respectively.

Though Bento left Kim off the roster initially, he had kept the door slightly open for a last-minute callup of the Gamba Osaka defender. But Bento confirmed Monday the 31-year-old is still not 100 percent.

“All of us know that he’s a very important player. He has shown a very good commitment to the (national) team every time,” Bento said. “My wish and my desire were that we would have the possibility to call him up but his condition didn’t allow that.”

Bento said Hwang, who leads all South Korean internationals with 13 goals on Bento’s watch, is an important player both on offense and defense. But Bento insisted Hwang’s absence won’t mean a wholesale change and he wasn’t ready to make any excuses.

“We’re not going to change everything because we don’t have two important players,” Bento said. “We have a lot of trust in the players that are going to replace those two players. We have enough quality to play as well as in the previous games. The ambition is the same. We’ll try to reach three points and play as well as possible.”