The South Korean men's football team for this year's FIFA World Cup is nearly set with about two months remaining, the national head coach said Friday.
"Our final roster is more than 90 percent complete," Hong said during the media showcase of the FIFA World Cup Trophy in Seoul on Friday. "I am also trying to draw up alternative plans in case of injuries to key players."
Hong said he and his coaches are keeping a close tab on players' form, saying it is important for them to avoid injuries before the big tournament.
South Korea will play in its eighth consecutive World Cup in Brazil starting in June, and has been paired with Russia, Algeria and Belgium in Group H.
One potential key player for South Korea, forward Park Chu-young of second-division English club Watford, remains on the mend. Local media reported earlier Friday that the 28-year-old will miss two to three weeks with a toe injury.
Hong said he'd been aware of inflammation in Park's foot and said he will have to wait and see how the player heals. Park scored the winner in South Korea's 2-0 win over Greece last month, in his first international appearance in more than a year.
The Korea Football Association (KFA) said later in the day that Park has returned to South Korea for treatment at a Seoul hospital.
It said Park didn't suffer any structural damage but his inflammation may take a while to heal.
Hong stressed the importance of starting the tournament on the right foot.
"All three matches will be crucial," he said. "But the first game (against Russia on June 17) will obviously have the biggest impact on the rest of the tournament."
Hong was among several football officials on hand for the South Korean stop of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour.
The most cherished prize in football arrived in South Korea earlier in the day and will be displayed for the general public at a Seoul shopping mall on Saturday. On Sunday, the trophy will make its way to a Seoul-based foster care center for children and also to Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Under FIFA rules, only players who have won the World Cup and heads of state are allowed to touch the trophy. Standing next to the trophy on the stage, Hong said he'd never been so close to the coveted award.
Hong captained the national team at the 2002 World Cup, when South Korea, as a co-host with Japan, reached the semifinals. It is the closest South Korea ever came to winning the sport's grandest event.
"I once had an opportunity to bring this trophy home," Hong mused before the audience. "I know it won't be easy, but I'd like to give our fans the trophy (this year)."
South Koreans' expectations for their national football team soared to unprecedented heights after the improbable run a dozen years ago, but Hong said he can live with such pressure.
"Our fans had the first-hand experience with the World Cup in 2002 and fully understand the magnitude of this tournament," he said. "Given our performance that year, it's only natural for them to have high expectations. And we as a national team have the responsibility to try our best to meet such expectations."
According to FIFA, the 267-day tour of the trophy will cover 88 countries. It started in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the host of this year's World Cup, on Sept. 12 last year, and will wrap up in the South American nation on April 21.
The trophy made its first international tour from January to April in 2006, prior to the World Cup in Germany, going to 31 cities in 28 nations.
The second tour covered 130 cities in 84 countries from September 2009 to May 2010, leading up to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. (Yonhap)