Nat’l football coach expresses hopes about rookies, laments retirement of 2 veterans

March 11, 2019

South Korea’s national football team head coach Paulo Bento on Monday expressed his hopes about two new faces who are set to make their international debuts later this month.

Bento unveiled his 27-man squad for friendly matches against Bolivia in Ulsan on March 22 and Colombia on March 26. The roster included Lee Kang-in of Valencia CF and Paik Seung-ho of Girona FC, who were called up to the senior national team for the first time.

“We watched their performances with their respective clubs, mostly in reserve team matches, and they’ve shown their talents,” Bento said at a press conference at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul. “I want to see their performance with the national team and how they can make progress.”

South Korea national football team head coach Paulo Bento speaks at a press conference at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul, on March 11, 2019. (Yonhap)

South Korea national football team head coach Paulo Bento speaks at a press conference at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul, on March 11, 2019. (Yonhap)

Lee made his first-team debut in October 2018. The 18-year-old midfielder also made two Spanish La Liga appearances this season, although he struggled to get playing time in recent weeks.

Paik, a former FC Barcelona youth product, made his first-team debut with Girona in January and the 21-year-old midfielder made most of his appearances at the Spanish King’s Cup.

“Lee can play on the flanks or can be used as a central attacking midfielder like he did with Valencia’s reserve squad,” Bento said. “The same thing applies to Paik. He can play in multiple positions, and we closely monitored their performances.”

Lee is the seventh-youngest player to join the men’s senior team at 18 years and 20 days. The teenage prospect was wanted by South Korea’s under-23 team and under-20 team for their upcoming schedule, but Bento said he talked with other coaches on the selection of Lee.

“We have a good internal communication system with national teams for all age groups,” he said. “I know there’s the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May, and for major events like this, it’s right for the U-20 team to select Lee. But I thought this is the time for us to test Lee, and I’ve already talked with U-20 team head Chung Jung-yong.”

While the two players made the list, there was no Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol, who left the national team after South Korea suffered a quarterfinal exit at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in January.

Ki, 30, announced his international retirement after playing 110 matches for South Korea. Ki’s close friend Koo ended his national team career at 76 matches.

“I personally have some regrets about the two players’ international retirement because considering their age, they quit earlier than I expected,” Bento said. “I still think they can help us.”

However, Bento denied that the selection of 27 players isn’t merely to fill the void of the two veterans.

“If I was to select a replacement for Ki, I would not have found one even if I were to search the whole globe,” he said. “When I select players, I don’t think about filling the void of some players. I think about the whole team and how the new players can make harmony with existing members.”

For upcoming matches, Bento said he hopes the national players enjoy the game, instead of thinking about pressure.

“I’m satisfied with my players because they’re professional and learn very quickly when I give instructions,” he said. “But I hope they can enjoy the game. If they can get rid of stress and pressure, I’m sure they can show their maximum talents on the pitch.”

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