Report: Park Ji-sung’s return ‘possible’ in March

January 17, 2014
Park Ji Sung of Eindhoven during the Champions League match between PSV and AC Milan in Eindhoven, Netherlands on August 20, 2013 (yonhap)

Park Ji Sung of Eindhoven during the Champions League match between PSV and AC Milan in Eindhoven, Netherlands on August 20, 2013 (yonhap)

Former national men’s football team captain Park Ji-sung could return to play in one of South Korea’s tune-up matches ahead of this year’s FIFA World Cup, the squad’s head coach said Thursday.

On the sidelines of the team’s training camp in the World Cup host nation, Hong Myung-bo said the former Manchester United midfielder may put on a South Korean uniform to face Greece on the road in March.

“It can happen,” Hong said. “There are many possibilities.”

Park, 32, announced his retirement from international play in January 2011, and has repeatedly said he would not return to the national team for this year’s World Cup. Earlier this month, however, Hong said he’d still like to meet Park and listen directly to what the veteran has to say, rather than rely on Park’s quotes in media reports.

Hong had previously been expected to meet Park, who is currently playing for PSV Eindhoven in the top Dutch league, sometime after South Korea’s match against Greece. After that contest, South Korea’s next pre-World Cup match will be in May. That means Park, even if he decides to come back after all, would only join Hong barely a month before the big tournament in South America.

Hong on Thursday said he hasn’t yet scheduled his meeting with Park, hinting that he can still meet the former captain before the Greece match.

“I am not meeting Park Ji-sung to try to persuade him to return,” Hong said, reiterating his stance. “I only hope to listen to his opinions myself.”

Park is a veteran of three World Cups and scored at least a goal in all three tournaments. He was teammates with Hong on the 2002 team that reached the semifinals when the tournament was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.

The versatile midfielder has played in 100 international matches.

Hong, who took over the national team last June, has recently talked about the importance of having veterans at the World Cup. Under his watch, the team has mostly featured players in their early- to mid-20s, and hardly anyone over 30.

For two friendly matches last November against Switzerland and Russia, the average age of the South Korean team was 24.9 years. In comparison, players on the 2010 World Cup team were on average 27.5 years old.

South Korea will be playing in its eighth consecutive World Cup this summer, and will face Belgium, Russia and Algeria in Group H.