Welp, I suppose we’re still drinking away our sorrows after that humiliating 6-1 defeat earlier today against Spain… but let’s shift gears for a bit. June is a busy month for not just the KNT but all levels of national team play, including the U-23’s. Of course, Shin Taeyong’s squad is preparing for the Rio Olympics which will commence in just over two months from now. Despite that, there are still several questions left unanswered in this, the final set of friendlies before the Olympic squad is named. Here’s a really quick post with Three Things to Watch ahead of the Nigeria, Honduras and Denmark friendlies.
1. Central defensive uncertainty
After widespread criticism of Song Juhun at the AFC U23 Championship, and mediocre early-season form from ex(?)-captain Yeon Jeimin, there are serious questions about how Shin Taeyong’s side will lineup in central defense. Yeon wasn’t called up to the latest squad, Shin opting instead to recall Song Juhun and Jeong Seunghyun from the AFC U23 Championship squad. Making his return to the U-23 scene is Jeonbuk defender Choi Kyubaek and Gwangju centreback Hong Junho is being given his first chance to impress.
In 2012, Hong Myungbo named two out-and-out centrebacks (Kim Kihee and Kim Younggwon) as well as the more versatile Hwang Seokho. Because of squad size limitations, Shin will probably have to adhere to that number as well. If he is able to get his way with Hong Jeongho, and in light of Jang Hyunsoo being confirmed as the second overrage player earlier today, at most two of the centrebacks in the current selection will be heading to Rio. Time to step up.
2. Defensive midfield battle: Park Yongwoo vs Lee Chandong
These friendlies will give Shin the opportunity to make up his mind on a key positional battle in defensive midfield. With Jang Hyunsoo being named as Shin’s second overage call-up earlier today, with Hong Jeongho seemingly being the manager’s it is very possible that one of these two players will be given the axe from the final 18-man roster. Lee Chandong was fundamental to the U23s up until the qualifying tournament, when his injury allowed FC Seoul man Park Yongwoo to shine. Both players have been getting fairly regular starts with their respective K-League clubs and will need to prove their worth to the manager to give themselves a spot in Rio.
3. A flurry of attacking options
There are some new faces for those only acquainted with the team that finished as runners-up in Qatar for the AFC U-23 Championship. Kim Mintae (Vegalta Sendai), Choi Kyeongrok (FC St. Pauli) and Park Inhyeok (FSV Frankfurt) make their returns to the squad list. Once again, the entire attacking set-up is probably competing for 8-9 spots. If we consider Son Heungmin and Kwon Changhoon locks, there are barely half a dozen spaces remaining.
The first friendly is against Nigeria in about 8 hours – 7am EST, 8pm KST, live from the Suwon World Cup Stadium. See you then!