전체적으로 박주영이 균형잡는 데 문제가 없었다. 경기력도 크게 나쁘지 않았다.”
홍명보 축구 대표팀 감독의 박주영(아스널)에 대한 신뢰는 흔들림이 없었다. 브라질월드컵 16강행 여부를 결정짓는 27일(한국시간) 오전 5시 벨기에와 3차전서도 박주영의 선발 출격이 유력해 보인다.
홍명보 감독은 26일(한국시간) 상파울루 아레나 코린치앙스에서 열린 기자회견에서 “우리의 전체 밸런스를 볼 때 박주영의 경기력은 그렇게 나쁘지 않았다”며 “공격적인 부분을 따지면 우리(전체 선수들)가 찬스를 못 만든 것이 사실”이라고 말했다.
그는 “두 번째 경기(알제리전)를 볼 때 찬스를 만들지 못한 것보다 더 큰 점은 수비가 실점을 너무 쉽게 허용한 것”이라며 “전체적으로는 박주영이 그 가운데서 균형을 잡는 데 문제가 없었다”고 덧붙였다.
이는 기회만 뒷받침되면 박주영의 골 결정력이 빛을 발할 것이라는 믿음이 여전히 공고하다는 것으로 풀이된다.
박주영은 러시아, 벨기에와의 H조 1, 2차전에서 슈팅을 단 하나 기록했다. 전방 압박에서는 양호한 플레이를 펼쳐 ‘수비형 스트라이커’라는 냉소적인 말까지 듣고 있는 상황이다.
국민의 여론도 들끓었다. 박주영 대신 교체돼 들어온 이근호(상주·1골1도움)와 김신욱(울산)이 펄펄 날면서 비난은 극에 달했다. 하지만 홍명보 감독은 벨기에전도 박주영 선발에 대한 믿음을 굳히는 분위기다.
홍 감독은 기자회견서는 벨기에전에 선발로 출격할 공격수들과 관련해서는 철저히 언급을 피했다.
그는 ‘선발진에 변화를 주느냐’는 질문에 “오늘 (마지막) 훈련이 끝났으니 지금부터 생각해보겠다”며 말을 아꼈다.
하지만 선수 구성이나 전술의 변화가 필요하다는 여론과 관련해서는 민감한 반응을 보였다.
홍 감독은 “우리가 알아서 판단할 것”이라며 “감독이 어떤 날은 좋은 감독이다가 어떤 날은 ‘조기축구 감독’만도 못한 사람이 된다”고 말했다.
한편 외신은 한국의 벨기에전 선발 원톱으로 박주영이 아닌 김신욱을 내세울 것으로 내다봤다. 이어 구자철 손흥민 이청용이 그 뒤를 받치고 중앙에는 기성용과 한국영이, 수비진에는 윤석영 김영권 홍정호 이용이 나설 것으로 예상했다. 골키퍼는 또다시 정성룡이 선발 출장할 것으로 내다봤다. (email@example.com)
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Hong’s team playing to give Koreans ‘hope’
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- South Korean football coach Hong Myung-bo does not have a religion, and if his squad won the unlikely victory against the widely favored Belgium on Thursday in their final Brazil World Cup group match, he would not call it a miracle, he said at a press conference in Sao Paulo on the eve of the big game.
Instead, he said he simply wanted his players to do their best and to play for the Korean people.
“Right now, for us to go to the Round of 16, of course the conditions are not favorable,” he said shortly after the team wrapped up its final practice ahead of Thursday’s match. “But what I am telling my players is that regardless of whether we move on to the next phase, I want us to give the Korean people hope.
“We know that the Korean people want this, desire this,” he added. “It is up to the players to go out on the pitch to do their utmost. If they do so, then I will be satisfied and happy.”
Korea’s World Cup campaign started with a hopeful 1-1 draw against Russia, but players admitted their spirits were crushed after a 4-2 defeat by Algeria that laid bare their defensive and offensive weaknesses. As it sits at the bottom of the group, Korea has all but been eliminated. Its only chance of surviving to the next round is if Korea beats Belgium, Russia beats Algeria, and Korea scores at least one more goal than Russia over their respective opponents to win by goal difference.
The members of Group H play the Brazil World Cup’s final set of group matches on Thursday at 5 p.m. (Friday 5 a.m., Korea time). Korea, with one point, plays Belgium, leading with six, while Russia faces off with Algeria, with one and three points, respectively.
Hong said that all of his players have been doing their best throughout the World Cup despite still going winless, and that they would continue to do so. He also praised striker Park Chu-young, a contentious inclusion on the World Cup squad who has yet to score a goal in Brazil, for creating “balance” on the team.
Korea and Belgium last met in 1999, when Belgium won 2-0 in a friendly. The year before that, they drew 1-1 at the France World Cup when current Belgian coach Marc Wilmots was a midfielder and Hong was a defender.
Hong acknowledged that as the Taeguk Warriors’ opponents have already secured their top spot in Group H and ticket to the Round of 16, they may be more at ease and feel less tension, but that it didn’t mean they would be less skillful. He praised Wilmots for leading his team “admirably,” while adding that in the game of football, anything can happen.
“In … football, it doesn‘t necessarily mean that the strongest team will always win. That’s what we’re preparing for. Even though it is our last game, we can hope, and I don‘t think anyone can predict what will happen in the match.”
If Korea beats Belgium, it will be the only Asian Football Confederation team to log a victory in this World Cup. Japan, Australia and Iran had already gone home winless by Wednesday.
Captain Koo Ja-cheol, by Hong’s side, said the whole team was well aware that their fans on the other side of the world were still hoping for Korea’s best on Thursday.
“All of the players know that the Korean people want us to play a great match tomorrow, and I know that they’re waking up very early in the morning to support us, to cheer us on,” said Koo, who softened the blow of Korea’s defeat by Algeria with the second goal. “That is why each and every one of us … are sacrificing ourselves for the team.
“Following the match with Algeria we were all very disappointed, needless to say,” he added. “But we have picked up ourselves from that match, and we are going to fight for tomorrow‘s match because we know that the Korean people are behind us.”
Whatever happens on Thursday, Hong said, it is not the end for his young players, as the future of Korean football depends on them. Though just a handful went to the World Cup in South Africa, a dozen were on the bronze medal-winning London Olympic squad and many, including Koo, have been playing under Hong since their U-20 or U-23 days.
“I don’t think this match with Belgium will be the last,” said Hong. “Our players will not stop here. They will continue to play for Korean football. They must. They are our future.”
Following Thursday’s matches, Belgium heads to Salvador on July 1 to take on the No. 2 of Group G, consisting of Germany, the U.S., Ghana and Portugal. The runner-up of Group H, between Russia, Algeria and South Korea, will play Group G’s top seed in Porto Alegre on June 30.
By Elaine Ramirez, Korea Herald correspondent (firstname.lastname@example.org)