The Korea Herald


Football coach stresses cohesion ahead of Olympic qualifiers

By Yonhap

Published : April 1, 2024 - 20:59

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With South Korea preparing for the Olympic men's football qualifying tournament kicking off in two weeks, head coach Hwang Sun-hong on Monday emphasized the importance of cohesion.

"There will be no such thing as an easy opponent," Hwang told reporters before a training session at Icheon Stadium in Icheon, some 60 kilometers south of Seoul. "No matter whom we face, it's really up to how we prepare. Our players have a strong desire to play at the Olympics, and I have confidence in them."

South Korea will compete at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar. They are in Group B against Japan, China and the United Arab Emirates.

The top two teams from four groups will advance to the quarterfinals. The top three nations will punch their tickets to Paris for the Olympics this summer, while the fourth-place team will face an African opponent in a playoff match later.

Throughout his media availability, Hwang stressed that it takes a total team effort to get the job done. He cited Argentina's run to the 2022 FIFA World Cup title as an example.

"They say Lionel Messi covered 7 kilometers to win the World Cup, but without his teammates, such as Rodrigo De Paul, Argentina wouldn't have won it," Hwang said. "Players on this team may not be as talented as the ones from the Asian Games (where South Korea won gold), but I think they can form an even tighter team here. We should work that to our advantage."

Hwang called up five overseas-based players for his 23-man squad, but it remains uncertain exactly when they will join the national team and how long they will stay. The AFC tournament isn't part of the FIFA international calendar, and teams aren't obliged to release their Korean players for the occasion.

Hwang has at least been able to get a handful of foreign clubs to send their Korean youngsters to Qatar, a group that includes Stoke City midfielder Bae Jun-ho, Celtic midfielder Yang Hyun-jun and Brentford defender Kim Ji-soo.

"There will be some variables, but we're going to remain hopeful," Hwang said. "We will have to think of Plan B, though."

Hwang served as caretaker manager for the senior national team last month for two World Cup qualifying matches. After South Korea had a win and a draw against Thailand, Hwang emerged as a candidate to become the full-time boss for the senior side, in place of Jurgen Klinsmann.

Hwang said last week he wasn't interested in the senior national team job and repeated that tune Monday.

"I am sure the Korea Football Association will make a good call on that. It's not for me to say," Hwang said. "I have to keep moving with my players here toward our next goal."