Tough choices for Park
© AFP

With only two months left before Korea Republic's opening match at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing, coach Park Sung-Hwa is pondering the question of how to bolster his squad with the right players.

Although he claimed to be satisfied with April's draw, which paired the young Taeguk Warriors with African giants Cameroon, five-time European champions Italy, and new CONCACAF kings Honduras, few were convinced when Park revealed his goal of "finishing in the top three" at the event. In fact, the quarter-finalists at Athens 2004 were held to goalless draws in their last three qualifying games, and Park's charges have been criticised for their poor finishing.

In January, the South Koreans set up a training camp in Spain, where they played a series of friendlies with FC Thun (0-0), Malaga (1-0), and Sparta Prague (0-2).

Although we couldn't score many goals, our midfielders pulled the strings better, and the players in general gained more confidence
Park Sung-Hwa is unconcerned by the lack of goals.

"We tried to focus on scoring, and to change the typical tactics we used during the qualifiers," said the 53-year-old Park. " ."

The old and the new
Since the beginning of the K-League season in March, Park has been busy scouting for new attacking talent. He has added a couple of youngsters to the 48-man provisional list; midfielders Park Hyun-Beom and Seo Sang-Min, who are enjoying outstanding seasons with Suwon and Gyeongnam respectively, have been rewarded with a chance to fight for their places, while Yokohama FC forward Cho Young-Cheol has been closely watched by assistant coach Hong Myung-Bo.

There is also talk of adding over-age players like Jeonbuk Motors striker Cho Jae-Jin, Zenit St. Petersburg left-back Kim Dong-Jin, and Park Ji-Sung of Manchester United, although the latter is unlikely to make the trip to Beijing due to his club commitments.

Even if they did join the squad, the coach believes the new additions would have to adapt to the existing system. Despite the goal drought in recent games, the team has been performing consistently under the leadership of captain and centre-back Kim Jin-Kyu, central midfielder Baek Ji-Hoon, and inspirational forward Park Chu-Young, whose experience on the world stage could be called upon in the finals.

"We must select players who are able to gell with the current squad," said the coach. "When I look back [on previous tournaments] there were some players who were good individually, but could not work with the team. So this time, I will choose 'team players' who are well-motivated enough to achieve our goal."

With Korea Republic's final preparations beginning on 7 July, Park has a month to reflect and make his choice from the shortlist. And the 18 chosen ones will be fighting for the country's first medal in their eighth attempt at the Olympic Football Tournament.