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Doubleheader on tap for Friday

Olympic team head coach Hong Myung-bo (left) is coming off a 2-0 win over Oman last month. (Yonhap News)
Olympic team head coach Hong Myung-bo (left) is coming off a 2-0 win over Oman last month. (Yonhap News)
South Korean football fans will be treated to a rare doubleheader Friday, as both the Olympic squad and the senior national team are set to compete in friendly matches in the nation’s capital.

At Seoul World Cup Stadium, the Olympic team, made up of players 23 years old or younger, will face Uzbekistan at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Then at 8 p.m. at the same venue, the senior national team will host Poland for its friendly.

The Olympic team is in the midst of the final Asian qualification for the London Games next year. The senior team has played two out of six games in the penultimate round of the continental qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

The senior team, with Cho Kwang-rae as head coach, is trying to prepare for the Group B qualification match against the United Arab Emirates next Tuesday in Seoul. In its first two qualifiers, South Korea beat Lebanon 6-0 at home and drew Kuwait 1-1 on the road last month.

Against Poland, Cho has picked veteran striker Lee Dong-gook, who will be making his first international appearance since the FIFA World Cup in South Africa last year. Lee has been the hottest player in the domestic K-League and leads the competition with 16 goals.

Cho, an offensive-minded coach who stresses aggressive passing and fore-checking, praised Lee’s nose for the goal from close range and said he will devise strategies that can best take advantage of Lee’s scoring touch.

“When Lee takes the field as the frontline striker, then we will put forwards on wings who can best supplement him,” Cho told reporters at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul.
Lee Dong-gook is set to make his return to the national team. (Yonhap News)
Lee Dong-gook is set to make his return to the national team. (Yonhap News)

“Lee has been in great form of late. He will show younger players how to play and his presence and attitude will help boost the morale of the team.”

Cho also said he will try to test as many players as he can against Poland so that he will have a better idea of who will start the qualifier against the UAE.

There are five groups of four teams in the third round. Teams play each other twice until early next year, and the top two teams from each of the groups will reach the fourth and the final round.

South Korea is seeking its eighth straight World Cup appearance and ninth overall.

The Olympic unit, coached by Hong Myung-bo, is coming off a 2-0 win over Oman in Group A on Sept. 21, but is shorthanded for this contest.

Midfielder Yoon Bitgaram, who scored a goal in the Oman game, has been picked for the senior team. The emergence of players in their early 20s such as Yoon earlier put Cho and Hong at odds over player selection. But they later agreed that the senior team would have the priority for players in case of a scheduling conflict.

Hong will also be without midfielder Kim Bo-kyung, who had the other goal against Oman. Kim broke his nose in a mid-air collision with an opposing player during an Asian Football Confederation Champions League match last week.

Hong said he is not discouraged by the plight of his team.

“I am trying to build a team that wins even in toughest of situations,” he said. “I will look to gauge potentials for our upcoming qualification matches.”

South Korea is paired with Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in Group A. Its next game is against Qatar on the road on Nov. 23.

In the final Olympic qualification, there are three groups of four teams each, and they will play each other twice in the home-and-away format. Only the top seeds from those groups will secure berths in London. The winner of a three-way playoff among No. 2 teams will enter an international playoff for the final chance to qualify.

South Korea is trying to make its seventh straight Olympics and ninth overall, but it has never won a football medal at the Olympics. It has made it out of the first round only twice in eight previous appearances at Olympic tournaments. 

(Yonhap News)
Korea Herald daum