After beating Costa Rica in its first international football match of the year, South Korean men's national football team received its first full day off during its ongoing training camp in the U.S. on Sunday.
South Koreans edged out Costa Rica 1-0 in Los Angeles on Saturday on an early goal by striker Kim Shin-wook. Head coach Hong Myung-bo gave his charge well-deserved rest, with a match against Mexico in San Antonio scheduled for Wednesday.
South Korea set up its pre-World Cup camp in Brazil, the host nation of the big tournament, on Jan. 13 and arrived in the United States the following week. This was the first full day of rest that Hong gave his team.
"Mexico is a strong opponent with a lot of talented players," Hong said of the 21st-ranked nation. South Korea is ranked 53rd. "It's important to have our players rested before facing Mexico."
According to South Korean team officials, the players will resume training on Monday and fly to San Antonio on Tuesday. The match is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday (local time), or 11 a.m. on Thursday in South Korea.
South Korea will then take on the U.S. in Carson, Calif., at 2 p.m. on Saturday, or 7 a.m. on Sunday in South Korea.
Against Costa Rica, Hong relied on young legs. The starting 11 were on average 25.5 years old, and forward Lee Keun-ho was the oldest one at 28. All three second-half substitutes were in their 20s, too.
With only three days off between matches and some players battered and bruised after facing the physical Costa Ricans, Hong is expected to use more veterans against Mexico.
The 30-year-old winger Yeom Ki-hun, who played at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, has enjoyed an excellent camp so far and should be available against Mexico. Kim Min-woo, 23, got the surprising starting nod against Costa Rica and even Kim said afterward he was taken aback by that decision.
Yeom had been a regular in press availabilities throughout the camp in Los Angeles, along with other former World Cup members: midfielder Lee Ho and goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong. It appeared to indicate the three would see some action against Costa Rica, but none of the three played.
Lee, 29, is also expected to be on the field against Mexico. He has some fond personal memories of playing Mexico on the American soil.
In February 2006, South Korea faced the pro club LA Galaxy, followed by Costa Rica and Mexico. Lee started all three matches and played an instrumental role in South Korea's 3-0 win over the Galaxy and 1-0 win over Mexico. He went on to start all three games for South Korea at the World Cup that year in Germany.
Jung, 29, was once considered the undisputed No. 1 goalkeeper for South Korea and played every minute at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, helping the country reach the round of 16.
Jung has since lost his grip on the job with a recent string of poor performances in the domestic K League Classic, coupled with the emergence of the 23-year-old Kim Seung-gyu.
The two have shared starting duties in recent matches and Kim got the call against Costa Rica. He was barely tested, however, as Costa Rica registered no shot on net.
They are expected to split the next two matches in the U.S., with the No. 1 job still up for grabs. (Yonhap News)