As South Korean men's national football team was getting ready to open the first overseas training camp in Brazil on Tuesday, head coach Hong Myung-bo stressed the importance of team spirit over competition for playing time.
The team of 23 players from South Korean, Japanese and Chinese leagues arrived here earlier in the day to start their one-week training in Brazil, the host nation of the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicking off this summer. The national team will later fly to the United States to face Costa Rica, Mexico and the U.S. in tune-up matches.
Star players from European leagues didn't make the trip, as their seasons are in full swing and their clubs aren't obliged to release them for training sessions or friendly matches. Hong instead called up players from the three Asian leagues.
Since about a dozen players from Europe are expected to make the final World Cup roster, the players in the camp this week are essentially fighting for about 10 or 11 remaining spots. Hong has said the camp will be an opportunity for those players to try to make an impression and fight their way on to the team.
Yet talking to reporters on Tuesday, Hong said the players shouldn't forget about their teammates.
"More so than fighting for playing time, the players should take care of each other and make sure they avoid injuries," Hong said. "If we put too much emphasis on competition, then the players will feel the pressure to beat someone next to them for their spot on the roster. But I think it will have a positive impact on the team when they also try to look after each other even as they compete."
Hong said the door to the national team will still remain open after the Brazil-U.S. camp.
"Some players may struggle more than others, but that doesn't mean they won't make the World Cup team," he said. "If they play well on their respective pro clubs, there will always be opportunities."
In the U.S., South Korea will face Costa Rica on Jan. 25 in Los Angeles, Mexico on Jan. 29 in San Antonio and the U.S. in Carson, Calif., on Feb. 1. All three opponents will play at the World Cup.
Hong said his players are at about "70 to 80 percent" physically as they enter their first training camp of the year.
"They're not yet in optimal shape to play matches," he said. "We will try to get them ready before going over to the U.S., and we will also work on our tactics."
The traveling squad includes recent national team fixtures such as forwards Kim Shin-wook of Ulsan Hyundai and Lee Keun-ho of Sangju Sangmu, and a trio of little-known defenders: Kim Dae-ho of Pohang Steelers, Lee Ji-nam of Daegu FC and Park Jin-po of Seongnam FC. All are from the domestic K League Classic.
South Korea has qualified for its eighth consecutive World Cup and has been paired with Belgium, Russia and Algeria in Group H. South Korea has made it out of the group stage twice. It reached the semifinals in 2002, when it co-hosted the World Cup with Japan, and advanced to the round of 16 in 2010 in South Africa, before losing to Uruguay. (Yonhap News)