South Korea will look to end its four-match winless slide in men’s soccer when it hosts Haiti on Friday.
The kickoff is at 8 p.m. at Incheon Football Stadium, just west of Seoul.
It will be South Korea’s first of two friendlies this month, with Croatia waiting on deck as the opponent next Tuesday.
Head coach Hong Myung-bo, who took over the national team in June, is seeking his maiden victory, with his squad having managed three draws and one loss in his first four contests.
South Korea is currently ranked 56th in the world and Haiti is 74th.
For the first time as the national team bench boss, Hong will have the services of Europe-based stars.
Forward Son Heung-min of Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga and forward Ji Dong-won of Sunderland in the English Premier League are among eight players under contract with European clubs who will be at Hong’s disposal for the match.
|The Korean national soccer team takes part in a practice session. ( Yonhap News)|
They were unavailable for three matches at the East Asian Cup in July and for the friendly against Peru on Aug. 14 because they were getting ready for new seasons in their respective leagues.
These overseas-based players will be counted on to provide an offensive punch for South Korea, which has scored just once in the four games under Hong.
The team has been sorely lacking a finisher around the net, and the likes of Son and Ji, and the versatile midfielder Koo Ja-cheol of VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, will try to fill the void.
At a press conference held at Incheon Football Stadium on Thursday, Hong said he didn’t want to place an extra burden on his players.
“I haven’t asked our offensive players to do anything special,” he said. “My biggest concern ahead of this match is the pressure our players must be feeling. We have players who are capable of scoring, and I hope they can play up to their abilities.”
Hong also said his players should not take their opponent lightly.
“Haiti has some big-bodied players with good stamina, and they can steal passes in tight space to set up breakaway chances,” Hong said. “We will try to play compact football to beat Haiti tomorrow.”
South Korea has been steady on defense with a young and athletic group of players based in domestic and Japanese leagues.
Joining them this time is left fullback Park Joo-ho, who is off to a strong start in his first Bundesliga season with Mainz 05 after leaving FC Basel in Switzerland.
An unexpected competition for playing time has been brewing in the goalkeeper position.
Jung Sung-ryong, a veteran of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, was relegated to the bench in South Korea’s previous international match against Peru on Aug. 14.
Kim Seung-gyu, making his international debut, made some spectacular saves to preserve a scoreless draw, and he should remain a threat to Jung’s job security.
South Korea has two more friendly matches each in October and November, followed by another one in March next year before the World Cup in Brazil.
Hong has been encouraging his players to engage in friendly competition for playing time, saying no one player will be guaranteed a spot on the World Cup team and even multi-millionaire stars from Europe will have to earn their way in the lineup.
Haiti’s 19-man team includes 16 members playing outside the country. Striker Jean-Eudes Maurice, who plays for Le Mans in the second-division French league, has 11 goals in 15 international matches.
In its last two international matches, Haiti held Italy to a 2-2 draw and battled world No. 1 Spain before falling short 2-1. (Yonhap News)