New Year’s brings new aspirations and hopes to the Korean national football team as young talent vies for the Asian Cup, starting Friday in Qatar.
Manager Cho Kwang-rae named six players from the U23 team, including 20-year-old Ji Dong-won and 19-year-old Son Heung-min, for his 23-man squad for Asia’s biggest football tournament.
The manager hailed his young talent after watching the team’s 1-0 victory in a friendly against Syria last week.
Although Cho had seen his team, lacking injured striker Park Chu-young, struggle with the Middle Eastern side, his string of second-half substitutions showed some promise.
After a goalless first half, Cho made two changes to the side, putting Ji and Son up front to change the pace. With their lively approach and slick moves, the two jumpstarted the team’s lackluster energy.
Chunnam Dragons forward Ji made his first international goal by scoring the winner in the 82nd minute with a well-aimed curling shot.
Much to the delight of the manager, Son of Hamburg SV also made his successful national team debut, guiding the attacking side and creating several chances.
“Today, I rediscovered Ji and Son. I believe they are going to be a great benefit for our team,” Cho said after the game.
Speaking of Son, Cho said that he was impressed with the team’s youngest player. “His pace and quick footwork were all in place and he was fast enough to outrun defenders.”
After the game, many were convinced that the teenage Son would become a mainstay of Cho’s squad. And it became apparent after the manager had paired up Son with captain Park Ji-sung as his roommate at training camp.
Cho’s motivation is understood to be that Park, the team’s best player, will pass on his knowledge and experience to Son, the team’s most promising young talent.
The inclusion of young talent such as Ji and Son is not just for the Asian Cup, but for the team’s long-term goal, according to the 56-year-old manager.
He acknowledged that the 2014 World cup is already on his mind. Cho, however, knows he has more important games to play beforehand.
Asia’s quadrennial football competition, featuring 16 top teams, kicks off on Jan. 7 in Qatar.
While Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup, will test its ability to organize a major sporting event, the Korean national team will look to live up to its billing.
Korea has not won the Asian Cup since 1960. They finished third place at the previous tournament, but this year, as the manager claimed earlier, they are gunning to end its 51-year-old title drought. The team will head into Qatar on Jan. 6 after playing their final warm-up match against UAE club side Al-Jazira Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org)