The 23-man squad has been named and now South Korea’s preparations for the Asian Cup and first round games against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Indonesia in next month’s continental competition are ready to begin.
National team coach Pim Verbeek sprung few surprises at KFA HQ last Friday afternoon. The big issue was whether strikers Lee Dong-gook and Ahn Jung-hwan would be selected. Lee was, Ahn wasn’t.
So almost five years to the day since Ahn scored that famous golden Judi Online goal which sent Italy crashing out of the 2002 World Cup and South Korea to the quarter-finals, his international career was almost certainly seemingly ended. At 31 and struggling to find a starting place with K-League team Suwon Samsung Bluewings, the way back to the top looks to be a tough one for the well-traveled striker.
“Perhaps after the Asian Cup he can get back to his normal level but at this moment we never see him play,” Verbeek told the Korea Herald. “He is not playing and not scoring goals. He is struggling – he doesn’t have the confidence of his club coach so there’s no reason to choose him.”
With a number of Korea’s most experienced players injured, Verbeek admitted that the inactivity which has caused Ahn’s absence was a problem.
“If there’s somebody regretting that situation then it is me. I still think that the Ahn Jung-hwan we know can make a difference.
“I don’t know if it because of five months out of football, the way they play in Korea, the mental state he is in after playing so many years in Europe and then coming back to Korea – I don’t know,” continued the Dutchman. “The only thing I can do is watch the matches, look at the players and pick the best ones.
“I am 100% sure he will understand.”
The absence of Ahn’s 2002 and 2006 team-mates Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyeon from the roster was expected but still unfortunate. The English Premier League stars are all recovering from surgery and the team’s opening game against Saudi Arabia on July 11 came just too early.
“All of them have serious injuries. I have a responsibility, not only to the KFA but also to the players and their clubs. It is easy to try and select them and see later what is happening but we need a proper preparation,” Verbeek said.
“The preparation for the 2006 World Cup was very difficult because of Park Ji-sung’s injury. He missed three out of four weeks training. We were waiting for him but in the meantime we can’t train with the system we want to play. That was bad preparation. At that moment, it was the best decision we could take but after we can say that in the future we should do things differently. We have to learn from our mistakes.
“So we should focus on the players we have. We have a lot of talented young players. The only thing they lack is experience. Most of the ones selected played in the Asian Games and they played six or seven internationals then and some of them like Yeom Ki-hoon have played Asian Champions League games.
“We will miss the three (English-based players) with all of their experience, two World Cups, a combined total of 15 years in European football,” he added. “Of course, the other players are more confident lining up along side those kind of players, opponents are more afraid.”
JFK was running for president the last time that South Korea lifted the Asian Cup but with the stature of the team in Asian soccer, expectations are high every time the tournament comes around. The coach is no different.
“You are only satisfied if you win because that’s why I came here. We haven’t won it in 47 years so I don’t know if it is realistic to say we are going to win. We are going with the objective of winning.”
According to the coach, anything less than a place in the last four and he may not hang around to see out his current contract that will expire in the summer of 2008.
“I have thought about this and if we don’t make the semi-final then I will seriously consider if I want to stay in my position as the head coach.”