National football team heads to Brazil for training

January 13, 2014
National football team poised to head to Brazil for training (yonhap)

National football team poised to head to Brazil for training (yonhap)

(Yonhap) The national football team is scheduled to depart for Brazil later Monday to set up its first pre-World Cup training camp in the South American country.

Head coach Hong Myung-bo will lead a squad of 23 players from South Korean, Chinese and Japanese leagues to the World Cup host country.

The team will arrive in Foz do Iguacu in Brazil on Monday local time and train there for a week before moving to Los Angeles, according to the Korea Football Association (KFA).

In the United States, South Korea will take on three World Cup participants in friendly matches: Costa Rica on Jan. 25 in Los Angeles, Mexico on Jan. 29 in San Antonio and the U.S. in Carson, Calif. on Feb. 1.

For the three-plus weeks of training and friendly matches, South Korea will not have the services of its top guns in European leagues, where seasons are in full swing and clubs aren’t obliged to release their players for the occasion.

Instead, Hong called up players based in the domestic K League Classic, the Chinese Super League and Japan’s J. League, whose new seasons won’t begin until the spring. For the World Cup, South Korea is expected to fill up to half of its lineup with established and experienced Europe-based players. Hong has earlier said the upcoming road trip will be a chance for other players to fight for the remaining roster spots and make an impression.

Hong has repeatedly said no one player is guaranteed a spot on the final World Cup roster and the door will be open for those who have a good camp this month.

The traveling squad includes recent national team fixtures, such as forwards Kim Shin-wook of Ulsan Hyundai and Lee Keun-ho of Sangju Sangmu, and a trio of little-known defenders, Kim Dae-ho of Pohang Steelers, Lee Ji-nam of Daegu FC and Park Jin-po of Seongnam FC. All are from the K League Classic.

Kim Shin-wook, a lanky striker who finished second in goals in the domestic league last year, has emerged in recent matches as a versatile offensive option. He will look to further cement his case as the go-to-guy up front, especially if Park Chu-young, talented but much-maligned forward who has barely played for Arsenal in the past two and a half years, isn’t named to the World Cup team.

South Korea is relatively deep on the wings and in midfield, and Europe-based players such as Son Heung-min of Bayer Leverkusen and Lee Chung-yong of Bolton Wanderers are expected to take up spots for the big tournament. At the upcoming camp, Hong may be seeking a sidekick to the holding midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, who is enjoying a fine turn with Sunderland while on loan from Swansea City in England.

On defense, Hong Jeong-ho of FC Augsburg and Kim Young-gwon of Guangzhou Evergrande have complemented each other well as center backs in recent matches, with Hong providing the muscle, and Kim offering smarts and an offensive touch. They both won’t attend the camp this time, but they appear to be locks for the World Cup.

The situation is wide open for fullbacks, with a mix of players from South Korean, Japanese and European leagues jostling for position.

Park Joo-ho of Mainz 05 isn’t part of the traveling squad, while Kim Jin-su of Albirex Niigata and Lee Yong of Ulsan Hyundai will try to gain an upper hand on the German-based veteran.

South Korea has qualified for its eighth consecutive World Cup and has been paired with Belgium, Russia and Algeria in Group H. South Korea has made it out of the group stage twice: It reached the semifinals in 2002, when it co-hosted the World Cup with Japan, and advanced to the round of 16 in 2010 in South Africa, before losing to Uruguay.