Lee Dong-jun of the South Korean men's Olympic football team trains at Kang Chang-hak Stadium in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, on Tuesday, in this photo provided by the Korea Football Association. (Korea Football Association)
Lee Dong-jun and Um Won-sang, both participating in the South Korean men's Olympic team training camp, bring much of the same qualities to the table. As two of the fastest players on the 28-man roster, the two forwards can keep opponents on their toes, find open space behind the defense and provide instant spark off the bench in a tight match.
When head coach Kim Hak-bum sets his final, 18-man team for the Tokyo Olympics, he may opt to take only one of Lee and Um, given their overlapping skill sets. And Kim will have other options on offense: while the Olympic tournament is limited to players at 24 or younger this year, teams can name up to three players over that limit. Kim has said Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min has expressed willingness to represent the country in Tokyo.
Against this backdrop, Lee, 24, and Um, 22, find themselves in a tight roster battle on Jeju Island, where South Korea will host Ghana for tuneup matches on June 12 and 15.
In a joint online interview on Wednesday, both players said they will embrace their internal competition.
"There's competition at every position, and it's the kind of pressure that athletes have to overcome," said Lee, forward for Ulsan Hyundai FC. "I think this is all healthy competition. Hopefully, we can both make the team."
Um said he'll try to enjoy training camp and added, "Even if I don't make the Olympic team, I think this experience will only help me down the road."
Lee and Um both said they're aggressive offensive players who can keep defenders honest. And they're also "team-first" type players willing to sacrifice moments of personal glory for the greater good.
"I am only thinking about doing the best I can in the role that I am given," Lee said. "It's not about what I want to do and where I want to play. It's about playing within our coach's system and executing our game plans."
Um, who plays for Gwangju FC, said he doesn't have any preference on where he'd like to play on offense.
"The coach will put me in a position where I can make the best use of my strengths," Um said. "I will always think about the team before anything I can do individually."
South Korea's best performance at the Olympic men's football tournament remains the bronze medal from the 2012 Olympics. Coach Kim has said the goal this year is to top that and win the gold medal.
Lee said it will all start with the two matches against Ghana.
"Even though these are friendly matches, we have to beat Ghana and develop winning habits," Lee added.
As for South Korea's pursuit of the gold medal, Um said, "Records are made to be broken. If the coach says our goal is to win the gold, then we'll all be chasing that together." (Yonhap)