Qatar is Korea's priority: Choi
Despite a friendly with world No. 1 Spain providing the Korean football team’s next opponents, manager Choi Kang-hee and his men are more focused on the far less heralded and lower-ranked Qatar.
“The first match counts in any event,” the 53-year-old Choi said Thursday on his departure for Switzerland to take on the European powerhouse.
“The Spain match is a friendly that can test our strategies and players but we have set our sights on Qatar. Still, I do not mean we will not play at full strength against Spain.”
Korea, 31st in the FIFA rankings, play the defending World Cup champions that boasts Real Madrid players including Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso at 3 a.m. (KST) on Thursday in Bern and then travel to Doha, Qatar to begin the final World Cup qualifying campaign against the 84th-placed hosts on June 9. Three days later, the Taeguk Warriors will face Lebanon at home in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province.
“Spain and Qatar play a different brand of football but what is important is how we will prepare for the Qataris (through the Spain test),” Choi said.
“I have watched all Qatar’s qualifiers and I can predict what tactics they will use.”
Koo Ja-cheol, who has impressed in the Bundesliga in recent weeks, said he sees the friendly as a tune-up for the final Asian qualifying round opener.
“The Spain test is important. No matter what the result, they will be a good sparring partner that will enable us to get ready for Qatar,” said Koo, who scored five goals in 15 appearances for Augsburg since January in Germany’s top flight while on loan from VfL Wolfsburg.
Winger Yeom Ki-hun, who rejoins the senior squad after an eight-month absence, said, “We will try our best for a good start to the final campaign by winning the first match.”
Recently, the national team has had some negative attention concerning the possible selection of Park Chu-young and a special naturalization application for Brazilian Eninho. After a series of discussions Choi decided not to pick Park, who barely featured at Arsenal this season. The forward has sparked controversy over his eligibility to delay his national service for a decade after being granted a 10-year residency visa in Monaco. The manager’s proposal to have Eninho naturalized to make him available for the Korean team fell through last week when the Korean Olympic Committee rejected the idea.
But Choi has already put the issues aside.
“I have already forgotten about the two players. I only plan to play the upcoming three matches with the 26 players I have chosen,” he said.
“We have a deep, talented pool of players and they are eager to perform well, so we will be able to achieve good results.”
Choi has called up nine players from overseas leagues including Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and Sunderland forward Ji Dong-won among the 26-man squad announced last week. Some of them will join up with the national team on Sunday due to K-League commitments.
Eight-time qualifier Korea, bidding for an eighth-straight World Cup appearance, are drawn with Iran, Uzbekistan, Lebanon and Qatar in Group A. The top two teams from the group will advance to the finals in Brazil in 2014.