The Asian Games are coming up in August, and manager Kim Hak-bum recently held a training camp for 25 youth players vying to make the 20-man Asian Games squad. All of these players are domestic-based, with the exception of Seo Young-jae (Hamburg) and Paik Seung-ho (Girona/Peralada). And of course we can’t forget over-age wild cards or U-23 Korean Players Abroad like Lee Seung-woo and Hwang Hee-chan. I’m here to break down the Korea-based players you may not have heard of!
By now I’m sure you all know why the Asian Games is so important so I’ll skip that in this post. I’m going to go through each position and give my take on the current training camp squad and how it could possibly be whittled down to 20. We’ve checked Naver and it’s looking like the KFA is set for a Monday morning Seoul presser to announce the 20-man Asian Games squad. We’ll have that for you on Sunday night in North America! For now, let’s look at the 25-man squad that trained with Kim Hak-bum in June at the Paju NFC/Indonesia (they played some scrimmages with Indonesian clubs to get used to the summer weather there! I bet it’s even hotter than Korean summers!)
At the GK position, the Asian Games rules stipulate that 2 goalkeepers must be taken of the 20 players selected. For now we’re operating on the assumption that Cho Hyun-woo is now in line for one of those GK spots.
South Korea U-23 manager Kim Hak-beom want to call up Son Heung-min, Cho Hyun-woo and Hwang Ui-jo as over-age players for the upcoming Asian Games. (Footballist) #kleague
— Korea Football News (@KORFootballNews) July 3, 2018
For the other GK, while Park Dae-han and Kang Hyeon-mu are solid GKs, Song Bum-keun is my clear favorite to join Cho in Indonesia. Song was the starting GK for the U20 World Cup team last summer, has nailed down a starting role at K League Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai in his rookie year, and already received interest from scouts in Europe! Basically, Cho and Song are the future GKs for the KNT and the Asian Games will be a chance for them to prove why.
Alright, let’s move to the defense. The defense looked a bit fragile at the AFC U23 Championship this past January in China but let’s hope a combination of more pro-level K League minutes and some tactical coaching from Kim Hak-bum gives us a more solid back line in Indonesia!
Let’s start with the obvious pick for one CB spot if he is fit: Kim Min-jae. The youngster was tipped for the World Cup before a cracked shinbone ruled him out and has European scouts having a look as well. He is still not fully recovered (let’s wait and see on that soon) but his reading of the game and aggressive tackling skills will be great if we can get him into the squad!
Kim Jeong-ho and Kim Jin-ya from Incheon United are certainly good players, but I don’t know if they will make this squad. Kim Jeong-ho currently is not even starting regularly for Incheon’s reserves, so I think he would be a long shot for this squad. In terms of Kim Jin-ya, he’s a regular off the bench for Incheon in the K League and actually plays more as a winger than as a defender. With the resumption of the K League this past weekend and the appointment of new manager Jorn Andersen, he has started 2 straight matches as a right winger. He is tenacious, has a bit of attacking instinct/shooting skills, and has good workrate overall so Kim Hak-bum may be considering him for a right wingback role.
Jeong Tae-wook from Jeju is in his rookie year and already making the subs bench on a regular basis. He was a stalwart CB for the U20 World Cup squad and figures to be a have a great chance to start if called up for the squad. He also offers a bit of a tactical wrinkle too, since Jeju United play in a 3-back defensive system. That tactical training he is getting at club level could be useful if Kim Hak-bum decides to go with a 3-back system.
Ulsan’s Lee Sang-min hasn’t made the K League squad on matchdays the past few games so he’s going to go down as a long shot for this roster with Kim Jeong-ho. Seongnam’s Lee Si-young will probably be a long-shot as well. He makes the bench for his K League 2 side but with other K League 1 options available I think he might not make this squad.
FC Seoul’s Hwang Hyun-soo has nailed down a role in this Seoul side and I think should Kim Min-jae not be fit he may be the best option to pair with Jung Tae-wook. He started in 3-0 win over the weekend so he’s got a K League cleansheet (a hard thing to achieve) under his belt!
Cho Yu-min of Suwon FC might be a longshot but he could provide another bit of tactical versatility that could be useful to this squad. He started Suwon FC’s last K League 2 match as a CDM in the midfield. This could make him useful as the central CB of a 3-back/5-back system. Basically, if you slot him in as a CB, he can transition to deep-lying midfielder when the ball is won back and we look to start an attack. That kind of tactical flexibility could certainly be useful!
Finally, Kim Moon-hwan plays for Busan IPark as a wing-back or full-back so that’s now 2 FB/WBs in the team. He could certainly provide a nice little back-up option for Kim Jin-ya or even win the starting RB/RWB spot to play opposite Seo Young-jae.
This midfield is going to be stacked and it is certainly going to be hard to cut players from this 25-man list to accommodate European-based youth stars or over-age wildcards. I am going to make a few selections based on which players I think have a reasonable shot at the squad. The midfield will definitely include Paik Seung-ho and Lee Seung-woo (aka the Barca Boys). Hwang In-beom, Tim’s favorite youth player, is also highly rated and has a great shot at this squad off his stellar play for Asan Mugunghwa this season in the K League 2 (remember this is the police academy club so that counts toward his military duty).
Lee Jin-hyeon has just ended his loan spell with Austria Wien and slotted right into the Pohang midfield this past weekend! He is an attacking midfielder that surprised us all last fall by featuring a lot for Wien and scoring goals before some niggling injuries meant a loss of form. He’s very talented, played a part at the U20 World Cup, and could have a bright future in Europe ahead if he can win this exemption. Wien had an option to buy from Pohang at the end of the loan but maybe declined because they worried about his military situation.
Let’s add a few more to the list. I like Kim Hyeon-ug from Jeju. He’s a little dynamo of an attacker and is featuring heavily for Jeju this season. He plays hard, gets into good scoring positions, and would be a nice asset off the bench for this squad. Lee Seung-mo from Pohang was also a member of last year’s U20 World Cup squad and could make this squad as a CM. Amongst Han Seung-gyu, Kim Geon-woong, Lee Dong-gyung, Jang Yoon-ho, and Hwang Ki-wook, I think that Hwang Ki-wook has the best shot at cracking this roster as he is the most consistent in terms of club playing time at the moment.
As a bit of a bonus surprise, Lee Kang-in, the 17 year-old sensation from Valencia CF, is rumored to be in the plans of Kim Hak-bum. We know he lit up an U21 Toulon Tournament and could very well do the same at an U23 Asian tournament. In addition, Kim Jung-min from RB Salzburg will also be in the mix for a spot even though he missed the training camp through injury I believe. He is right now viewed as a bit of a Ki Sung-yeung successor and at only 18 is coming through the ranks at RB Salzburg, currently getting minutes with their feeder club FC Liefering.
Finally, the forwards! We know Son Heung-min has permission to go, and we’ve already talked on the site about Hwang Ui-jo potentially going also. So, let’s pick one more from the youth ranks. From the three listed forwards above, I would pick out Na Sang-ho and Lee Keun-ho as the likely candidates. Na Sang-ho played for Kim Hak-bum when he was the coach of Gwangju FC and has remained one of Gwangju’s best performers. Lee Keun-ho (the young one) has already been featuring for Pohang this season and has scored a few goals already. If we’re looking for a surprise to make the squad not in this list, the two best candidates would be Cho Young-wook and Jeon Se-jin. Both have showed flashes for FC Seoul and Suwon Samsung Bluewings this season but Kim Hak-bum elected not to select them for his training camp. Let’s see if either of those two will do something in the next few weeks of K League fixtures to convince Kim to rethink that decision.
That’s a bit of a preview of the Asian Games squad as it looks right now. Kim Hak-bum is planning to announce his squad this Sunday so we’ll have a full squad preview on the main site when that happens! Leave some comments if you have any questions!