Saturday, August 5, 2006

Verbeek Starts New Korean Era

Football is a remorseless, unrelenting business. Dick Advocaat’s fifth floor apartment at the Grand Hilton Hotel in Seoul may not have been empty for long but already Korean attention has shifted from the past to the future.

‘Future’ has been the buzzword in and around the headquarters of the Korean Football Aossciation and in the fifth floor of that building on a wet Seoul morning, new South Korean coach Pim Verbeek was telling reporters that the squad 36-man squad he had just announced reflected signaled the beginning of a new era.

“This squad is selected with the future of Korean football in mind,” the 48 year-old declared. “The last World Cup showed that there is still a gap between Europe and Asia. We need to learn the lessons from the competition and that process starts now.”

It is only 40 days since the Taeguk Warriors lost 2-0 to Switzerland in their third World Cup match. On that balmy Hanover evening, Verbeek, the fourth Dutchman to take the national reins in as many years, stood shoulder to shoulder with Advocaat as South Korea exited the global stage.

After being the right hand man to Advocaat, who now coaches Russian club team Zenit St Petersburg and new coach of the Russian national team Guus Hiddink before him, it is Verbeek’s turn in the spotlight. There were plenty of flashes at what is sure to be the first of many such press conferences.

On August 16, South Korea makes the relatively short trip south to Taiwan for the second Asian Cup qualifier. The continental competition kicks off in the summer of 2007 and to book a place there, the 2002 World Cup semi-finalists must finish in one of the top two spots in a group that contains Iran, Syria and Taiwan. Already, Syria has been defeated and already it is difficult to imagine an alternative scenario to the one that sees Iran and Korea heading to South-East Asia a year from now.

As straightforward as it should be, the qualifying campaign will at least give Verbeek a chance to get the team playing the way he wants – “a Korean way” as he has said more than once since arriving back in Seoul on July 26. The process will begin on August 6 when the squad gathers at the National Football Center in Paju, for a training camp ahead of the Taipei clash.


Eight of those named won’t be present. Kim Dong-jin and Lee Ho will be busy in Europe while Jo Jae-jin, Kim Jung-woo and Kim Jin-kyu have the Japanese season to contend with. Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i’s trio also has business across the East Sea with the annual A3 Champions tournament.

Also absent and not named are English-based stars Seol Ki-hyeon, Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo. The new English Premier League season kicks off three days after the Taiwan game. Cha Du-ri has been given time to settle in with new German club FC Mainz.

Consequently, there will ‘only’ be 28 eager players in Paju, less than three months after thirteen of them spent a pre-World Cup training camp in the border city. World Cup captain and goalkeeping mainstay Lee Woon-jae will not be there as he has a back injury. There is speculation in the media that Kim Nam-il will be handed the captain’s armband on a permanent basis.

With 36 players named, it was unlikely that there would be many surprises. There are no shocking omissions to give Koreans something to debate besides the weather but the inclusion of a host of new faces is a bold statement of the Dutchman’s intentions and the fact that he has a long-term vision for the national team. Such a thing has been lacking over the last few years with as coaches came and went with depressing rapidity and everything was focused on World Cups.

Some of the young players will have watched the 2002 World Cup at middle school and may have to pinch themselves as they train alongside stars from that competition like Kim Nam-il, Lee Eul-yong, Lee Chun-soo and possibly Ahn Jung-hwan.

Youngsters like Shin Young-rok of Suwon have impressed in recent months. The 19 year-old Suwon striker is one for the future and he will find a familiar face at the training camp as team-mate and fellow attacker Seo Dong-hyun makes the journey too. Young FC Seoul midfielder Kim Dong-seok would also have been surprised to get the nod after only five professional games. 20 year-old Busan I’Park defender Lee Kang-jin is another new name to be printed on the back of the national team shirts.

Many of the new faces won’t make the plane to Taipei and fewer still will cross the white line. However, the experience of training with the best players in the country will be valuable for the youngsters. It works both ways. Verbeek will be looking forward to taking a close look at what he has to work with and whether some of them have what it takes to be in his team.
“The selection criteria is easy,” the coach said. “Players should be ready not only to physically show their capability on the field but play intelligently on the pitch which is a must for my style of football.”
There is also room for players to return to the set-up after various lengths of time away, the most significant of which are Choi Sung-guk and Lee Kwan-woo. Choi has been the only bright spark in a dismal season for 2005 champions Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I and the little striker has eight goals to his name. Skilful midfielder Lee Kwan-woo was a talisman at Daejeon Citizen but after six and a half seasons he broke hearts in the city by joining Suwon and he has been rewarded with another bite at the national team cherry.
An Asian Cup qualifier in Taipei may lack the glamour and excitement of the World Cup but it is a sign that it is all about to start again and Korean football hopes that it is the start of a new era.

GK

Jung Sung-ryong (Pohang), Kim Yong-dae (Suwon), Kim Young-kwang (Chunnam), Seong Kyeong-il (Jeonbuk)

DF


Jo Byung-guk (Seongnam), Jo Sung-hwan (Pohang), Jo Yong-hyung (Jeonbuk), Jung In-hwan (Jeonbuk), Kim Jin-kyu (Iwata), Kim Young-chul (Seongnam), Lee Gang-jin (Busan), Jo Won-hee (Suwon), Jang Hak-young (Seongnam), Oh Beon-seok (Pohang), Kim Dong-jin (Zenit), Song Chong-gug (Suwon), Yang Sang-min (Jeonnam)

MF

Baek Ji-hoon (Suwon), Kim Doo-hyun (Seongnam), kim Dong-seok (Seoul), Kim Jung-woo (Nagoya), Kim Nam-il (Suwon), Kim Sang-shik (Seongnam), Kwon Jib (Jeonbuk), Lee Eul-yong (Seoul), Lee Ho (Zenit), Lee Jong-min (Ulsan), Lee Kwan-woo (Suwon)

FW

Ahn Jung-hwan (Duisburg), Jo Jae-jin (Shimizu), Choi Sung-guk (Ulsan), Jung Jo-guk (Seoul), Lee Chun-soo (Ulsan), Park Joo-young (Seoul), Seo Dong-hyun (Seoul), Shin Young-rok (Suwon)

Copyright (c) John Duerden & soccerphile.com

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