S. Korea football coach says 2 La Liga prospects will not start vs. Bolivia

March 21, 2019

South Korea football coach Paulo Bento said Thursday that two national team rookies from Spanish La Liga clubs will not start against Bolivia, adding that there could be tactical changes.

Lee Kang-in of Valencia CF and Paik Seung-ho of Girona FC were selected for the senior national team for the first time for March friendlies, but Bento said the two prospects will not start in a friendly match against Bolivia at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, some 400 kilometers south of Seoul, on Friday.

“Lee and Paik will not be starting members for tomorrow’s match,” Bento said in a pre-match news conference in Ulsan. “We’ve selected more than 23 players this time. I’ll ultimately decide tomorrow whether they should be on the match roster.”

South Korea national football team head coach Paulo Bento speaks to reporters at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan on March 21, 2019, one day ahead of his team's friendly match against Bolivia. (Yonhap)
In this file photo taken on March 19, 2019, South Korea national football team captain Son Heung-min (C) greets Lee Kang-in (R) and Paik Seung-ho ahead of training at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul. (Yonhap)

South Korea national football team head coach Paulo Bento speaks to reporters at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan on March 21, 2019, one day ahead of his team’s friendly match against Bolivia. (Yonhap)

With veteran midfielders Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol having announced their retirement from international football after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in January, Bento needed an infusion of new blood. Lee, 18, and Paik, 22, are considered the future of South Korean football after making their Spanish La Liga debuts earlier this year.

“I wanted to check whether they can adjust to the national team and cope with our style of play,” Bento said. “In general, I’m positive for the two. If they are included on the match roster, I’ll decide whether they should play as substitutes depending on the situation.”

Bento has been sticking to a 4-2-3-1 formation since he took the helm last August. But this time, the Portuguese boss hinted that he may make some tactical changes, including the position of Son Heung-min.

“I may use a two-striker system,” he said. “Son can be one of the two strikers.”

At the national team, Son has been mainly used as a winger. The Tottenham Hotspur star did play as a center forward in some matches, but he has yet to score a goal under Bento’s reign.

“I could use a two-striker system from the start or in the middle of the game,” he said. “We may have a different formation, but that doesn’t mean our style of play will also change. Our style and philosophy will remain the same.”

Bento’s side are looking for a fresh start after a quarterfinals exit at the Asian Cup. Bento said the Taeguk Warriors will now gear up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification.

“After I took this job, I tried to play exciting football that can satisfy our fans, and I think I’ve achieved some of it,” he said. “Although we didn’t get the result that we wanted at the Asian Cup, now is the time to find new solutions and develop our team.”

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