PAJU, South Korea -- South Korean footballer Kwon Kyung-won said Monday he is ready to build up a solid national team career after joining the senior squad for the first time.
Kwon is one of 26 players selected for South Korea's upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Iran and Uzbekistan. South Korea will host Iran on Aug. 31 and take on Uzbekistan five days later in Tashkent for the final Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Kwon, 25, became the second most expensive South Korean footballer after joining Chinese side Tianjin Quanjin this winter from Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates with a transfer fee of $11 million. Kwon only trails Son Heung-min, who left Bayer Leverkusen in 2015 for Tottenham Hotspur in a deal reportedly worth 30 million euros ($35 million).
In this file photo taken on March 12, 2014, Kwon Kyung-won of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (R) takes a shot against Melbourne Victory during their Asian Football Confederation Champions League group match at Docklands Stadium in Melbourne. Kwon is currently playing for Tianjin Quanjin in China. (Yonhap)
But despite his market value, this was the first time Kwon has been selected to the national team. He previously had only four appearances for the under-23 side.
"For me, the national team selection was like something you can catch, but it's not easy to catch," Kwon said to reporters at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul, where the team set up camp. He is one of 16 players called up for early training following a request to K League clubs from South Korea head coach Shin Tae-yong.
"Even though I have now joined the national team, I don't think I've perfectly 'caught' my spot in the national team," he said.
"But I can say that my national team career has just started."
Kwon said he was happy when he first heard the news of his selection, but has already put aside his personal excitement because of the national team situation.
With only two matches remaining in the final round and Iran already securing a spot in the World Cup, South Korea are barely holding on to the last qualification spot in Group A with 13 points, just one point above Uzbekistan. Only the top two teams in the group can secure tickets to the World Cup in Russia, and the third place team will have to go through play-off rounds.
"I was honored and happy when I earned the selection, but now I only think about helping the national team win the qualifiers," he said. "These two matches are too crucial."
When asked why he felt he earned the nod from Shin, Kwon said his work rate and playing style may have drawn the coach's attention.
"I just worked hard with my team, and thought I could get an opportunity one day," he said. "I can also play in various positions, so that may have appealed to the head coach."
Kwon can play as a defensive midfielder, but he can also deploy as center back or full back. For Tianjin, he has been mainly a central defender.
"I'm ready to help the team," he said. "We still have some time to train, so I'm ready (whether I play as center back or defensive midfielder)."
Kwon made his pro debut with the South Korean club Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in 2013 and was sold to Al Ahli two years later with a transfer fee of $3 million. After joining Tianjin for $11 million, he said he has just worked hard to prove his value.
"When I first heard about my transfer fee, I was also surprised," he said. "I have to prove it that I'm worth the money." (Yonhap)