Overseas footballers will be tested in Spain friendly
By Kang Seung-woo
Korea will take on world No. 1 Spain in a warm-up for the World Cup Asian qualifiers at 3 a.m. Thursday (KST) in Bern, Switzerland.
This time, national team manager Choi Kang-hee will employ several players based overseas. Since taking the helm in December, he has mainly selected his squad from the K-League, with only three plying their trade abroad called up for each of the past two matches.
However, the 53-year-old chose 12 overseas players in the 26-man roster two weeks ago and plans to field a team featuring many of them against the defending World Cup champions to test them ahead of a trip to Qatar for a World Cup qualifier next month.
Young Sunderland striker Ji Dong-won is expected to be deployed alone up front instead of veteran Lee Dong-gook, who only joined the team on Monday due to club commitments.
The 21-year-old has been training at the National Football Center (NFC) in Paju with five other foreign-based players after the 2011-12 English Premier League season ended earlier this month to stay match fit. He showed glimpses of what he is capable for Sunderland, including a last-second winner against eventual champions Manchester City on New Year’s Day.
Lee, 33, seeking a third World Cup appearance, is likely to enter the fray in the second half due to jet lag following the long flight.
Choi has hinted that Ji will be the lone striker against Vicente del Bosque’s side.
“Long-distance travel and time differences can end in injury for players who have just arrived here. It is too much for Lee to start only two days after joining the team,” the manager said.
For Ji, the outing will serve as an opportunity to impress the coaching staff in competition for a forward spot, created by the absence of the out of favor Park Chu-young.
Son Heung-min of Hamburger SV, who helped the German outfit avoid relegation in the Bundesliga, will look to support Ji while Yeom Ki-hun and Nam Tae-hee will be on the wings.
With Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-yueng still recovering from a hamstring injury, Kim Do-heon, formerly of West Bromwich Albion and VfL Wolfsburg’s Koo Ja-cheol are likely to be in central midfield. The center back pairing of Lee Chung-soo and Cho Yong-hyung, both of whom play in the Qatari league, will look to keep things tight at the back against the European side’s array of attacking options.
“We can benefit a lot from the Spain match, given that we can overcome jet lag and check our conditioning,” Choi said.
“I will capitalize on this friendly as a test for newly-selected players and also see how the team deals with our top-ranked opponents.”
Meanwhile, Spain, which defeated Serbia 2-0 in a Euro 2012 warm-up on Saturday, have added Fernando Torres and Juan Mata, who helped Chelsea win the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history, to their squad.