With or without Ji

Korea Republic have produced plenty of starlets throughout FIFA U-20 World Cup history including the likes of Park Chu-Young, Ki Sung-Yueng and Koo Ja-Cheol, all of whom form the backbone of the current senior national team. But this year’s finals could be a different proposition for the young Taeguk Warriors, who are likely to be without some of their key players at Colombia 2011.

After helping his country qualify for the world finals, striker Ji Dong-Won was called up to the senior national team, scoring on his international debut last December. The Chunnam Dragons sensation went on to wear the No10 in the absence of injured Park Chu-Young at the ensuing AFC Asian Cup in Qatar, where he scored four goals as the South Koreans finished third.

Seok Hyun-Joon and Lee Yong-Jae are some of the candidates who can fill the gap.
Korea Republic coach Lee Kwang-Jong

Ji has become one of the hottest assets in Korean football thereafter, with the 20-year-old a target for no fewer than three national team coaches. Ji seems to have already passed through the gateway to prominence with the senior national team, and the U-23 side are, understandably, also eager to secure his services.

“I’ve heard about the possibilities [of signing for a foreign club] because there will be a lot of scouts out there [in Colombia],” Ji told FIFA.com. “But regardless of whether I play for the U-20 side or not, there will be plenty of opportunities in other national teams as well. What matters is how well I perform, and it’s not important where I play.”

Attacking options
In fact, Ji is just one of three promising forwards who are eligible to play for the U-20 side, but are not likely to be part of coach Lee Kwang-Jong’s plans this summer. Son Heung-Min of Hamburg and Valencienne’s Nam Tae-Hee may not have participated in Korea Republic’s qualifying campaign last year, but they would provide a lethal presence on the flanks as the duo proved during January’s Asian Cup and subsequent friendlies.

Without the aforementioned trio, Lee tested a couple of combinations up front in his favoured 4-4-2 formation during the Suwon Cup in May. And with Colombia 2011 little more than a month away, the search for the perfect combination remains ongoing, with the young Taeguk Warriors returning from a friendly tournament in the Netherlands this week.

Lee will have a final opportunity to hone his side’s final preparations next month. “It’s true that we’re running out of time,” Lee admitted in an interview with FIFA.com. “We didn’t have a chance to test new forwards in the Netherlands because they were just a series of short practice games. Hopefully, I’ll have all the players at my disposal during the final training sessions as well as in the finals.”

“Football is a game where you must score to win, and it’s a pity that we’ll be without Dong-Won who can convert the chances,” Lee said. “But we have to move on and I have a couple of forwards in mind. Seok Hyun-Joon and Lee Yong-Jae are some of the candidates who can fill the gap, and I’m still optimistic that Nam will be able to join us next month.”