As first squads go, it is an important one. New Dominoqq national team coach Huh Jung-moo has no room for error as he prepares to guide South Korea along the road to the 2010 World Cup – starting against Turkmenistan on Seoul on February 6.
That will be the first of what will hopefully be 14 World Cup qualifiers and, while the Turkmen shouldn’t be underestimated – the team is physically strong with a number of players plying their trade in the Russian and Ukrainian leagues – it is as comfortable an opener as Huh could have wished for after being appointed to the position in December.
There were a few surprises in the 26-strong squad that the former Chunnam Dragons coach named on a freezing Thursday morning in Seoul but there was never any chance of the three eligible English Premier Leaguers – Manchester United’s Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo of Tottenham and Fulham’s Seol Ki-hyeon – not being summoned.
The trio will not play in a fairly low-key friendly game against Chile on January 30 but they will be back in the Land of the Morning Calm fairly soon after. Huh is looking to build his team, and his likely 3-5-2 formation – a change from Pim Verbeek’s preferred 4-3-3 – around the lively Park.
“There will be a lot of new faces in the national team, and we believe that the experience and skills of the foreign-based players will offer a great help for the younger players,” he said. “The players in Europe have already proven their abilities.”
Lee Dong-guk is the fourth Premier League star but is still suffering from the effects of two late-night drinking sessions that took place during the Asian Cup in Jakarta last July -not even soju creates such a hangover. The Middlesbrough striker and his three booze buddies, Lee Woon-jae, Kim Sang-sik and Woo Sung-young have been banned from national team duty until the end of the year.
The Lion King has enough on his mind as he tries to save his Middlesbrough career that has yet to produce a league goal. Striking rival Cho Jae-jin is also in England, trying to engineer a move into the world’s most popular and most lucrative league.
Spare a thought for the muscular marksman whose moody modeling expressions may soon become a permanent feature. This was supposed to be his time. His three, very successful years, in Japan came to an end in December. A free agent and available on a free transfer, surely one of Korea’s top strikers wouldn’t be short of offers?
There was interest. Cho, 26, went to Newcastle United for a trial and was reportedly on the verge of being offered a deal just as coach Sam Allardyce was fired by the club‘s owner after a run of mediocre performances. His north-eastern hopes dashed, Cho headed to the south coast and Portsmouth just as that club’s boss, Harry Redknapp, was being courted by Newcastle to become their new coach.According to reports in Korea, Cho was left dangling as Redknapp never saw the player as he took a couple of days to think over Newcastle’s offer before. Cho came back to Korea but was then soon scuttling westwards again for a final throw of the dice at Premier League strugglers Fulham. Despite encouraging words from Roy Hodgson, that deal too, looks to have hit a brick wall.
Whatever happens, Cho and anybody else who doesn’t currently have a club, will not be selected by Huh. Midfielder Kim Jung-woo provides another example of that. Ahn Jung-hwan was also excluded but has since joined Busan IPark.
Huh decided to choose four strikers –two of which, Park Chu-young and Jung Jo-gook, barely managed to find the net for goal-shy FC Seoul last season and while Huh knows that such an affliction is hardly contained to the capital, he is sure that, with time, goals will be in plentiful supply.
“We can’t solve the goalscoring problems overnight, it has been a long-standing problem,” he admitted. “For a short time, it will be hard to improve but as the players have promised to cooperate, we can overcome this problem. Through repeated training and set piece plays, we aim to improve our goalscoring abilities.”
We will soon see.
South Korea squad:
GK–Kim Byung-ji (FC Seoul) Jung Sung-ryong (Pohang) Yeom Dong-gyun ( Chunnam)
DF–Kwak Tae-hwi (Chunnam) Kwak Hee-ju (Suwon) Hwang Jae-won, Jo Sung-hwan ( both Pohang) Jo Yong-hyung (Seongnam) Kang Min-soo (Jeonbuk) Jo Won-hee (Suwon) Kim Chi-woo (Jeonnam) Lee Young-pyo (Tottenham, England) Park Won-jae (Pohang)
MF–Lee Jong-min (Ulsan) Kim Nam-il (Vissel Kobe) Kim Du-hyeon (Seongnam) Yeom Ki-hoon (Ulsan) Park Ji-sung (Manchester Utd, England) Lee Dong-sik (Jeju) Lee Kwan-woo (Suwon) Hwang Ji-soo (Pohang) Koo Ja-cheol (Jeju)
FW–Seol Ki-hyeon (Fulham, England) Jung Jo-guk (FC Seoul) Jo Jin-soo (Jeju ) Park Ju-young (FC Seoul)