With veteran South Korean midfielder Son Jun-ho being held in China for bribery charges, national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann wanted to show Son his support the only way he could -- by putting the 31-year-old on the 23-man squad for two friendlies this month.
Klinsmann unveiled his team for matches against Peru on June 16 and El Salvador on June 20. Son was a surprise selection, as the Shandong Taishan midfielder has been in detention in Liaoning for bribery allegations.
Efforts by South Korean officials to gain Son's release have been unsuccessful, and it appears unlikely that Son will be available for the June matches.
Still, Klinsmann said he wanted to show Son that he has the entire team's support.
"I think it's important to show Jun-ho support and he feels we're right there behind him," Klinsmann said at his press conference announcing the team at the Korea Football Association House in Seoul. "Obviously, we're all shocked with the situation. We really hope and pray that he gets released. But it's not in our hands. He's on the list in case something happens."
The KFA sent senior officials and its in-house attorney to China last week to gather more information about Son's detention beyond what the Chinese authorities have said were bribery allegations. According to a KFA official, the officials returned home earlier Monday without success.
"Son's own attorney balked at arranging a meeting between Son and our people," the KFA official said. "And Chinese officials told them they didn't have anything to say about the situation."
Asked why he still chose Son despite the lingering uncertainty instead of giving that roster spot to someone else, Klinsmann said his roster will be flexible between now and the first matchday, because of possible injuries to players.
"Our roster you see today might not be the roster you see next week," the coach said. "There are always changes. It's an open situation."
Klinsmann will try to win for the first time as South Korea's bench boss, after having a 2-2 draw against Colombia on March 24 and losing to Uruguay 2-1 on March 28.
The German coach said he and his staff had enjoyed a busy but exciting 2 1/2 months since, scouting players in the domestic K League and in competitions overseas. Klinsmann himself traveled to Europe in April to meet with South Korean stars plying their trade there. He has also watched several K League matches in person.
"First of all, it's exciting to watch a new league more in detail and get an idea of players, coaching approaches and styles that they play," Klinsmann said of the Korea league. "It's a wonderful learning curve. The K League is very competitive. Obviously, we have seen some good games and seen some games that are less good, like in every league in the world. For me, it's fun to watch. I really enjoy going to games."
These scouting trips are part of preparation for the team's bigger goal -- to win the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup in January 2024 in Qatar.
"Everything we do now is always with one eye going toward the Asian Cup," Klinsmann said of the tournament that South Korea last won in 1960. "We're discussing the players and discussing what we can do in order to best prepare for the Asian Cup." (Yonhap)