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Korea steps closer to London 2012

Manager Hong indicates big changes ahead of final qualifying for Olympics


The Korean Under 23 team manager Hong Myung-bo has addressed his worries over the team, after his side drew with Jordan 1-1 in the second round of Asian qualifying on Thursday.

Having won its first leg of the play-off 3-1, Korea advanced to the final round of Asian qualifier for the 2012 London Olympics.

The 42-year-old manager, however, revealed his concerns over the upcoming Asian qualifier, admitting that his team needs a “radical change.”

“We were lucky today, to advance to the next round,” Hong said after the game in Jordan.

“But, we now must fix our problems before the final round, as we’ll have to face much stronger teams,” he added.

Hong pointed out that his team must fix its defense, saying: “We again conceded a goal first today, and it made the game difficult. We need to work on that.” 
Hong Chul (left) celebrates with teammate Yoon Bit-garam after scoring against Jordan on Thursday in Amman, Jordan. (Yonhap News)
Hong Chul (left) celebrates with teammate Yoon Bit-garam after scoring against Jordan on Thursday in Amman, Jordan. (Yonhap News)
Korea U23 team manger Hong Myung-bo.  (Yonhap News)
Korea U23 team manger Hong Myung-bo.  (Yonhap News)

Despite knowing that a draw would be enough to secure the final round berth, Korea started on an aggressive note on Thursday, dominating the first half.

Forward Kim Dong-sub, who scored a goal against Jordan in the first leg of play-offs on Sunday, missed two clear chances from close range. And midfielder Yoon Bit-garam’s long range shot went narrowly over the bar.

But the team’s lack of defense prowess and sloppy marking allowed Jordan took the lead in the 41minute.

In the second half, the home side almost made 2-0. A miss-pass from Korean defenders allowed Hamza Aldaradreh, who scored the opener, a free chance, but he missed the chance.

In the 71st minute, Korea managed to level the score thanks to substitute Hong Chul. The Seongnam Ilhwa defender dribbled past defender just outside of the penalty box before curling a ball nicely into the right corner of the net. Thanks to the goal, Korea has now reached the third round of Asian qualifying, which kicks off in September.

In the other second round games, Australia and Japan made it through the third round by defeating Yemen and Kuwait respectively.

Qatar eliminated India and Saudi Arabia beat Vietnam to advance. Oman stunned China, and Iraq defeat neighbor Iran to take the final berth in the final round.

North Korea, however, was knocked out by UAE on aggregate 2-1 after a 1-1 draw with the Middle Eastern side Thursday.

The 12 winners from the second round will be divided into three groups of four teams ― the draw is scheduled on July 7 ― and play a home-and-away league format from September until March 2012.

Asia has 3.5 tickets for the London Olympics. The winners of the three groups will automatically qualify for the Olympic Games. Then, three runners-up will clash in a play-off in March, and the winner will meet the fourth-best team from Africa for a berth in London.

Korea is trying to reach its seventh straight Olympics next year in London, and make its ninth overall appearance at the quadrennial competition.

But manager Hong said earlier that he felt a lot of pressure preparing for the London Olympic qualifiers.

Some of young talents from U23 side, including striker Ji Dong-won, midfielder Yoon Bit-garam and defender Hong Jeong-ho, also play for the senior national team, which make them difficult concentrate on the Olympic qualifier.

The 20-year-old rising star Ji, in particular, is set to join English club Sunderland in this summer, and is likely to miss the final qualifying round.

“We need to make a big change in the team in order to make it to the London Olympics, but we don’t have enough time,” Hong said.

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