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Korea primed for deep Asian Cup run

Jeju United’s Koo Ja-cheol appears set to fill in for injured Park Chu-young

National football team manger Cho Kwang-rae remains confident that Korea can win the Asian Cup title despite missing his best striker.

Although losing Park Chu-young of AS Monaco was a big blow, Cho seems to have found an alternative in Tuesday’s friendly ― his answer is Jeju United midfielder Koo Ja-cheol.

On Tuesday, Cho’s side beat UAE’s club Al Jazira 2-0 in a friendly to prepare for Monday’s clash against Bahrain. Midfielder Lee Chung-yong and Ki Sung-yueng scored a goal apiece in the first half.

The manager opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with 20-year-old striker Ji Dong-won as the lone forward and the 22-year-old Koo as the second striker behind Ji. 
Koo Ja-cheol is set for a bigger role on the national team. (Yonhap News)
Koo Ja-cheol is set for a bigger role on the national team. (Yonhap News)

Park Ji-sung of Man United played at left and Bolton Wanderers’ Lee Chung-yong was on the right flank.
Korea midfielder Lee Chung-yong fires a shot against Al Jazira. (Yonhap News)
Korea midfielder Lee Chung-yong fires a shot against Al Jazira. (Yonhap News)

Cho seemed content with his new formation, especially midfielder Koo’s new role up front replacing the injured Park.

“He (Koo) did well up there. It was actually better than expected,” said Cho after the game. “I think this formation will work against Bahrain.”

Last week, in a friendly against Syria, the manager tested Park and Kim Bo-kyung of Cerezo Osaka to fill in for the AS Monaco striker’s absence. But neither made a major impact on the team.

Koo, however, was a constant source of opportunities on Tuesday. The midfielder, who recorded 19 assists in the K-League last season, linked well to provide several chances to Ji as well as two other attacking midfielders.

In the 37th minute, his killer pass allowed Lee a one-on-one chance with the goalkeeper, which earned a penalty shot.

“Koo played well today, balancing the forwards and midfielders. He also made some creative plays,” said Bolton’s Lee, who scored the opener on Tuesday.

Still, finding more goal-scoring players is a big task for Cho. In the first half, Korea fired 11 shots but managed to score just two, including one on penalty. The manger made seven changes in the second half, bringing in forward Yoo Byung-soo of Incheon United and teenage striker Son Heung-min to test his options. But despite dominating the game, Korea failed to extend its lead.

Cho said he had decided 90 percent of his starting lineup for the Asian Cup but acknowledged that he still needs more time to decide the rest.

Cho and his 23-man squad are heading to Qatar on Thursday from their training camp in Abu Dhabi.

Korea joins Australia, Bahrain and India in Group C for the 2011 Asian Cup, which starts Friday. And their first match is against Bahrain on Jan. 10.

They face one of the favorites Australia on Jan. 14 before playing India in their final group leg. The top two teams from each group go through to the knockout stage, which is scheduled from Jan. 21.

Korea has not won the Asian Cup since 1960. It finished third at the previous tournament. But this year, as the manager has claimed earlier, it is gunning to end its 51-year-old title drought.

By Oh Kyu-wook (596story@heraldcorp.com)
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