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S. Korea looking to win early Olympic qualifying event on home soil

Sept. 5, 2023 - 20:13 By Yonhap
Hwang Sun-hong, head coach of the South Korean men's under-22 national football team, speaks at a press conference ahead of the 2024 Asian Football Confederation U-23 Asian Cup qualifying tournament in the southeastern city of Changwon on Sep. 5. (Yonhap)

South Korea will try to please their home supporters and win their group in an early Olympic men's football qualifying tournament, head coach Hwang Sun-hong said Tuesday.

Starting Wednesday, South Korea will host Group B action at the 2024 Asian Football Confederation U-23 Asian Cup qualifying tournament.

South Korea's under-22 team will play Qatar on Wednesday, Kyrgyzstan on Saturday and Myanmar next Tuesday. All three matches will kick off at 8 p.m. at Changwon Football Center in the southeastern town of Changwon.

The U-23 Asian Cup will double as the AFC qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. The top three nations at the U-23 Asian Cup will punch their tickets to France, while the fourth-best team will take on the fourth-place team from the African qualification, Guinea, in a playoff.

"Since we're the host country, we want to play entertaining football and win every match, on top of qualifying for the Asian Cup," Hwang said at the pretournament press conference in Changwon.

The U-23 Asian Cup qualification will feature 11 groups in total. The 11 group winners and the four best runners-up will qualify for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup set for April next year. Qatar have automatically qualified as the host country, and Qatar's results in Group B in Changwon will not count toward the group rankings.

Hwang said the Qatar match on Wednesday won't be entirely meaningless for South Korea.

"They are the host of the U-23 Asian Cup and they're preparing for the competition with a long-term view," Hwang said. "We're trying to build our competitiveness for next year, and Qatar will present a good test for us."

Hwang is juggling multiple duties this week. He is also head coach of the U-24 team set to battle at the Asian Games later this month in Hangzhou, China. That team is also training in Changwon, and some U-22 players who would have been considered for the Asian Cup qualifiers are concentrating on the Asian Games.

"We have a few players in this age group preparing for the Asian Games and we've also had to deal with injuries," Hwang said. "Thanks to cooperation from K League club coaches, we were able to reach into the domestic talent pool for this team. It's not the best squad we could have assembled, but there can't be any excuse. We still have to prove ourselves."

Qatar head coach Ilidio Vale, who took over the program last month, said this qualifying event will be an opportunity for him to learn more about the players.

"We have a great desire to win tomorrow's match," the Portuguese tactician said. "I will run a few experiments, both from individual and team organization perspectives."

Anarbek Ormombekov, head coach for Kyrgyzstan, said he was pleased with the way his two-week camp has gone, despite some early difficulties adjusting to weather in South Korea.

Myanmar boss U Aung Naing said, "It's been a short training camp for us but we gained some experience by playing in other regional events. We feel we're well prepared." (Yonhap)