Not without controversy, South Korea opens World Cup camp

May 12, 2014
From left - Jung Sung-ryong, Kim Seung-kyu, Lee Beom-young,  Ki Sung-yeung, and the head coach Hong Myung-bo arrive in style at their training center. (Yonhap)

From left – Jung Sung-ryong, Kim Seung-kyu, Lee Beom-young, Ki Sung-yeung, and the head coach Hong Myung-bo arrive in style at their training center. (Yonhap)

From left - Park Chu-young, Lee Chung-yong, Lee Keun-ho, Kim Shin-wook, Lee Yong. (Yonhap)

From left – Park Chu-young, Lee Chung-yong, Lee Keun-ho, Kim Shin-wook, Lee Yong. (Yonhap)

(Yonhap) — South Korea opened its training camp on Monday ahead of this year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil amid a lingering controversy over the roster selection, as the first batch of nine players from the 23-man squad reported for the start of the weeks-long preparations.

Six players from the domestic K League Classic and three others from European clubs arrived at the National Football Center (NFC) in Paju, north of Seoul.

The half-dozen K League Classic players are goalkeepers Jung Sung-ryong of Suwon Bluewings, Kim Seung-gyu of Ulsan Hyundai and Lee Bum-young of Busan IPark; defender Lee Yong of Ulsan Hyundai; and forwards Lee Keun-ho of Sangju Sangmu and Kim Shin-wook of Ulsan Hyundai. The South Korean league has entered a World Cup break after last weekend’s matches.

The three Europe-based players are midfielders Ki Sung-yueng of Sunderland and Lee Chung-yong of Bolton Wanderers, and forward Park Chu-young of Watford.

Lee’s season in the second English division ended earlier this month. Ki and Park are recovering from injuries and they returned home before the end of their respective seasons.

According to the Korea Football Association (KFA), the national governing body of the sport, other players from foreign leagues will report to the camp starting Tuesday. Of the 23 players, 17 are based overseas.

Head coach Hong Myung-bo was one of the first to arrive at the NFC. He said with players joining the national team on different days, he will ease them into action, especially with a few of them dealing with injuries.

“I expected our players to be arriving on different schedules, and I have prepared training schedules accordingly,” Hong said. “I will try to figure out what we’re lacking as a team and to address those issues so that we can start the World Cup on a positive note.”

South Korea will be making its eighth consecutive World Cup appearance in Brazil, where it will take on Algeria, Belgium and Russia in Group H.

On the latest FIFA rankings, South Korea moved up a notch to No. 55, but remains the lowest-ranked nation in Group H. Belgium is ranked 12th, followed by Russia at 18th and Algeria at 25th.

South Korea will host Tunisia in the final pre-World Cup match at home on May 28. Two days later, the team will travel to Miami to set up camp. Hong’s team will have one last test against Ghana on June 10 in Miami and will hop over to Brazil on June 12, five days before the first group stage match against Russia.

Since announcing his team, Hong has come under fire for going against his own principle. When he first became the national team head coach, Hong had said he wouldn’t call up players who aren’t getting regular action on their respective clubs.

Yet he selected striker Park Chu-young, first for a friendly against Greece in March and then for the World Cup, even though Park, under contract with Arsenal, barely played for the Premier League club and things didn’t change when he was loaned to Watford in January.

Also, Hong chose little-used Queens Park Rangers defender Yun Suk-young over FSV Mainz 05 defender Park Joo-ho, who made 26 starts for the German club and played the full 90 minutes in 24 of them before coming down with a foot injury.

Critics of Hong’s decision said Park Joo-ho was unfairly left off the team when other injured players, such as Park Chu-young and midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, were named when their ailments were just as severe.

Before the start of the team’s afternoon training, Hong told reporters that he is only focusing on players on hand at the moment.

“You can never satisfy everyone, no matter what kind of player selections you make,” the coach said. “The important thing is to do the best we can with the players that we have and post good results. I don’t know how it might seem from the outside, but there is no problem within our team.”

Earlier on Monday, Park Chu-young caused a stir upon arriving at the NFC. He said he was aware of the controversy surrounding his selection, and declared, “I have no reason to go to the World Cup unless the people want me there.”

“You in the media should ask people how they feel and let me know,” Park said. “I will make my decision based on that.”

Informed of these words, Hong, who has long been a staunch supporter of Park, said he was baffled by the player’s comments.

“There is not much time left until the World Cup,” Hong said. “I hope we can all just talk about football.”