Manager Park Sung-hwa is on a mission to make South Korea’s under-23 football team better than the one that scored twice in a game only once in its last four outings.
Judging by his unimaginative team selection, however, there is little reason to believe that South Korea is shaking off its goal-scoring problems anytime soon.
The under-23 football team left for Tashkent Tuesday for an Olympic qualifier against Uzbekistan on Saturday. A win in Tashkent would be crucial for Park’s side with Bahrain moving within one point of the Group B leaders with a 2-0 win over the Uzbeks.
Only the top teams from Groups A, B and C will secure tickets to Beijing, and Korea completes its group action at home on Nov. 21 in what now shapes up as a crucial match against Bahrain.
Throughout out a series of narrow victories and the scoreless draw against Syrian last month, Park has continued to insist that it’s only a matter of time before the goals start coming.
Park is hoping that the uninspired Uzbeks, who have nothing to play for with their Beijing hopes already shattered, will serve as the whipping boys. However, it remains to be seen whether South Korea can finally hit the goal trail this time around, when Park will be relying on basically the same squad that has made goal scoring into rocket science.
Once again, the hopes of the nation fall squarely on the shoulders of injury-prone FC Seoul striker Park Chu-young, hailed by the media as the future of Korean football, although his scoring rate is not quite as high as his pain threshold is low.
Manager Park seems curiously stubborn about pairing Chu-young with Kim Seung-yong upfront, although their linkup play in the Syria match failed to produce a glimmer of hope.
Chu-young and Kim, who are similar in size and approach, hardly conform to each other as ideal partners, as they both prefer getting the ball to their feet instead of over the top or from crosses. This makes both players greatly dependent on a presence of a main striker who stretches the defense and gives them enough room to create havoc.
Park’s obsession with the dysfunctional frontline duo is defensible, considering that the other option would be forward Shin Young-rok, the team’s only resemblance of an aerial threat, who at times looks incapable of kicking a ball into the ocean.
Park is desperate to find a true frontline predator, but the country’s dearth of youth talent at the position is leaving him with limited options.
A notable addition to the team is Kyung Hee University prospect Kim Geun-hwan, a 1.92-meter central defender who moves well for a man his size. The fact that Park is considering using Kim as a reserve forward, hoping for a Peter Crouch-like presence in set-piece situations, reveals the desperation of the coach as the 21-year-old would never have the pace to stretch a defense.
Daegu FC forward Lee Keun-ho, who many consider as the country’s No.1 young player, will be counted on for his usual brilliance in the left flank, while FC Seoul winger Lee Chung-yong will take Kim’s original position on the right wing.
Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I (Tigers)’s Lee Sang-ho will support the attack as a central midfielder, paired with club teammate Oh Jang-eun, who will be assigned to a more defensive and deeper role.
Chunnam Dragons teammates Kim Jin-kyun and Kang Min-soo are untouchable as a central defensive pair, while fullbacks Kim Chang-soo (Daejeon Citizens) and Shin Kwang-hoon (Pohang Steelers) will enjoy plenty of freedom to support the attack.