Four members of the South Korean 2018 World Cup squad have been reunited in the country's pursuit of a second straight Asian Games gold medal.
Head coach Kim Hak-bum announced his 20-man roster for the Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games, where South Korea will be the defending champions. The opening ceremony is Aug. 18, but the men's football tournament kicks off on Aug. 14.
Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min was a no-brainer selection as one of five forwards. He led South Korea with two goals at the FIFA World Cup in Russia last month, while the team got eliminated in group stage with one win and two losses.
|South Korea's under-23 football coach Kim Hak-bum speaks at a press conference at the Korea Football Association House in Seoul on July 16. (Yonhap)|
Son, who has netted 39 goals over his past two European seasons, is one of Asia's most lethal attackers, and should provide a much-needed boost to a young squad with little firepower otherwise.
The Asiad men's football tournament is open to players 23 years old or younger, but teams can each name up to three players over that limit as their wild cards. Son, who turned 26 earlier this month, was one of three overage players, and the group includes a surprise World Cup star in net, Jo Hyeon-woo of Daegu FC.
Jo won the starting job over veteran Kim Seung-gyu, and was named the Man of the Match in South Korea's 2-0 shock win over the 2014 champions Germany. Jo, who will be 27 in September, brings big game experience and stability to the South Korean net.
Two other World Cup players were young enough to be picked without forcing Coach Kim to use his wild cards: 20-year-old forward Lee Seung-woo and 22-year-old forward Hwang Hee-chan.
Hwang, who plays for FC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, was expected to serve as a foil to Son up front at the World Cup, but was generally a disappointment. In a telling sign of head coach Shin Tae-yong's frustration with the young forward, Hwang, who started against Sweden and Mexico, came off the bench early in the second half against Germany but was replaced after about 20 minutes of action.
Lee, the youngest member on the World Cup team, didn't get to play that much. The Hellas Verona man was a second-half sub in the first two contests, and remained on the bench against Germany.
The Asian Games will be a chance at redemption for both Hwang and Lee. They are known for their pace and attacking styles, and they should find more space to roam in the underage continental competition than they did at the World Cup.
A lot will be at stake for these players and the rest of the team. A gold medal will mean exemption from the mandatory military service, and it is of particular importance to players like Son, Hwang and Lee, who are hoping to carve out long, uninterrupted international club careers.
Son had hoped to play at the 2014 Asian Games -- when he was still 22 -- but his then-club, Bayer Leverkusen, refused to release him. South Korea defeated North Korea for the gold medal then.
In Indonesia, South Korea were originally grouped with Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia and Bahrain in Group E, but the Asian Football Confederation recently said it will re-do the draw after the United Arab Emirates and Palestine were omitted from the initial draw. (Yonhap)