The Korea Herald


Klinsmann takes new-look team in pursuit of 1st win as S. Korea head coach

By Yonhap

Published : June 14, 2023 - 09:16

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Players on the South Korean men's national football team train for a friendly match against Peru at Gudeok Stadium in the southeastern city of Busan on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Players on the South Korean men's national football team train for a friendly match against Peru at Gudeok Stadium in the southeastern city of Busan on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Jurgen Klinsmann will be hoping the third time will be the charm, as he takes his third crack at winning his first match as head coach of the South Korean men's national football team this week.

South Korea, ranked 27th, will host 21st-ranked Peru at Busan Asiad Main Stadium in the southeastern city of Busan at 8 p.m. Friday.

It will be the first of two friendlies for South Korea this month, as they will face El Salvador in Daejeon, some 160 kilometers south of Seoul, next Tuesday.

In Klinsmann's first two matches at the helm, South Korea played Colombia to a 2-2 draw on March 24 and then lost to Uruguay 2-1 four days later.

Klinsmann has said he was still pleased with the performances in those two matches and he wants to see more of the same this time -- with different results.

"We want to build on the excitement we had in the first two games against Colombia and Uruguay," he said at the start of training camp in Busan on Monday. "And obviously, we want to win the games, too."

Klinsmann will have a much different defense corps than March, with his two top center backs missing.

Napoli star Kim Min-jae, recently named the best defender of the 2022-23 Serie A season, will report for his mandatory military training later this month after earning service exemption by winning the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games. His longtime center back partner, Kim Young-gwon of Ulsan Hyundai FC, has been sidelined with a right quad injury.

Klinsmann chose Portimonense defender Park Ji-su as one of his center backs. Another veteran, Kwon Kyung-won of Gamba Osaka, was initially selected last week and was expected to team up with Park, but Kwon was dropped from the national team Monday after suffering an injury in Japan.

Kim Ju-sung, a 22-year-old center back with one international cap, could get some opportunity this time. Following Kwon's injury, Klinsmann selected two more center backs in replacement: Ulsan's Jung Seung-hyun, with 11 caps to his credit, and Park Kyu-hyun of the third-tier German club Dynamo Dresden, who has yet to play for the senior national team.

In Monday's training session, Klinsmann paired the right-footed Park Ji-su with left-footed Park Kyu-hyun, offering a glimpse into a potential partnership for Friday's match.

Park Ji-su told reporters Tuesday that while Kim Min-jae and Kim Young-gwon are irreplaceable, he can do his part to fill their void.

"I think I have things that I can offer, and I can be competitive on the field," Park said. "I've been around these guys for four years, and I think I can fit in seamlessly with the rest of the defenders."

Park and his teammates on the backline will have to keep an eye on forward Gianluca Lapadula. He scored 26 goals in 43 matches across all competitions for his Italian club, Cagliari, this year, and helped them earn promotion to the top-flight Serie A for next season.

In contrast with the situation on South Korean defense, the same trio of forwards will return from the March matches, despite some early-season woes for a couple of them.

Hwang Ui-jo of FC Seoul has gone from being the most reliable goal scorer for South Korea to having to fight for playing time. He has managed just four goals in 17 matches this season.

Cho Gue-sung of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors missed the early part of this season with an injury and has netted four goals in nine matches -- this a year after leading the K League 1 with 17 goals in 31 games.

Celtic FC forward Oh Hyeon-gyu, who played in both of the March matches, will have a chance to usurp those two older teammates in the starting lineup. The 22-year-old had a charmed first season with Celtic FC, scoring seven goals in 21 matches, mostly as a sub, to help the club achieve a domestic treble by winning the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup titles.

"Whether I play one minute or 90 minutes, I will do my best," Oh said Tuesday. "I think I can be a powerful and dangerous presence in the box. I will try to show everything I have on the field."

Klinsmann, a legendary striker from his playing days, said he is always happy to see his forward find the back of the net, because "they live for goals."

"We have forwards that can really score goals," Klinsmann added. "I hope they will all get the minutes in these two games, and hopefully, we will get some goals from them."

The coach may be without his captain and Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min, who underwent sports hernia surgery following the end of the Premier League season at the end of May. He had been deemed questionable as of Tuesday morning, though national team officials said Son was eager to take the field Friday. (Yonhap)