Hong Myung-bo, head coach of the Korean national football team, speaks during a news conference at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Monday. The training camp opened ahead of the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil. / Yonhap
By Kim Tae-jong
Korea coach Hong Myung-bo Monday said he will focus on making up for the weak points of his team as he opened his pre-tournament training camp to prepare for the upcoming World Cup.
"It's not perfect yet, but it's just the beginning," Hong told reporters at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. "During the training period, I will remedy our shortcomings. I will do my best to have a good start."
It was the first official appearance since Hong announced his 23-man roster for the World Cup on Thursday, much earlier than FIFA's June 2 deadline.
Hong was the first to arrive at the camp, followed by nine players and other staff. The rest of the squad, including Europe-based players, is expected to join the camp within the next week due to their schedules with their clubs.
The nine players on hand Monday were goalkeepers Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Hyundai), Lee Bum-young (Busan IPark); defender Lee Yong (Ulsan Hyundai); midfielders Ki Sung-yueng (Sunderland), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton); forwards Park Chu-young (Watford), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Hyundai) and Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu).
The real test for the full lineup will be possible next week when more players such as Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen), Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz), Hong Jeong-ho (Augsburg) and Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City) join the camp.
After two-week preparation, the team will play against Tunisia on May 28 in a friendly in Seoul as its final warm-up.
On May 30, the team will leave for Miami where it will train and play practice matches before moving on to Brazil on June 12.
During about 30 remaining days, the coach is expected to test the similar lineup and formation that he had against Greece in a friendly match in March, where he engineered a 2-0 win, hoping for the same magic.
But Hong said he will first check the condition of all his men in order to help them stay in top shape for the first match with Russia on June 18.
"I expected players to join the camp separately. In the first week, I will try to help them boost their physical condition. I will have them check conditions individually. Considering the level of their fatigue, I'll decide the amount of practices they will have," he said.
Following the first match with Russia, Korea will take on Algeria on June 23 and Belgium on June 27.
When asked which team would be the hardest to play against, Hong simply said, "The three of them are all tough."
South Korea is considered as an underdog in Group H, as it is the 55th in the FIFA ranking, while Belgium leads the pack at No. 12, followed by Russia at the 18th and Algeria at the 25th.
But all the players showed high confidence, pledging to do their best.
Lee Chung-yong, who arguably was Bolton's most important player this season and is expected to show off his talent for the national team in the World Cup, said his clock is now set for the first match.
"I'm very excited now," the 26-year-old said "I don't have any personal goal but the team should win, and that will be a benefit for me. I'm in a good condition, and I'll focus on the first match."
He stood out for the team in 2010 as he scored two goals in the World Cup in South Africa, helping the team move up to the round of 16 for the first time outside its home country.
"I don't remember well how I played four years ago, as I was just a rookie," he said smiling. "But I'm better prepared than before."
Park Chu-young, the little-used Watford forward, who had come back home earlier than other players due to an injury in his toe, said he will do his best to meet the high expectations of Korean fans as well as Hong. The coach is expected to use Park as a key player in his 4-2-3-1 lineup.
"I'll do my best," the little-used Watford forward said. "I'm fully recovered from injuries. You will see it during practice matches."
Park, who will play for the second World Cup in his career, also stressed the meaning of being part of the team.
"Putting the Korean flag on my uniform means I represent my country. As long as Korean fans support me, I will do my best," he said.
Regarding the concerns over the relatively young and inexperienced team, Ki said his teammates' fighting spirit is stronger than that of the national team in the previous World Cup.
The deep-lying playmaker was a promising and rising star player four years ago, but he is now one of the team's backbone players.
"Four years ago, I had elder brothers on the team, who had lots of experience. Now, I feel more responsibility. I also feel pressure that I should do better. But this younger team has many good players in different positions and their fighting spirit is stronger," he said.
There were obviously players full of excitement for the biggest event in their careers.
Lee Keun-ho is one of them, who failed to be recruited for the national team four years ago, although he played well in World Cup qualifiers.
"Four years have passed. It was difficult time for me," he said, sporting an army uniform and beret as he now plays for Sangju Sangmu, a military football club. "I've finally made it into the World Cup, but this is not the end. I really hope I will do a good job."