SEOUL, Sept 1 (Reuters) - South Korea’s bid for Asian Games soccer gold will be spearheaded by wildcards Kim Shin-wook, Kim Seung-gyu and Park Joo-ho, said coach Lee Kwang-jong on Monday as his charges opened their training camp ahead of this month’s tournament.
Towering striker Kim Shin-wook and goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu both saw action for South Korea at the World Cup in June, while defender Park was an unused substitute in Brazil.
South Korea, who last won the Asian Games competition in Seoul in 1986, face Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Laos in the group stage, with the top two moving on to the next round.
Japan are defending champions after beating the UAE in the 2010 final in Guangzhou. South Korea finished third.
Despite his World Cup experience and hot form in the domestic K-League this season, striker Kim played down his own individual strengths and focused on the team.
“I may not be the most talented wild-card player ever, but I am ready to make more sacrifices than anyone this year,” Yonhap News agency quoted the 26-year-old as saying.
“We may have great skills on this team, but we still have to build cohesion in order to win the gold medal.”
A gold medal from the Asian Games would not only look good in a South Korean player’s trophy cabinet, it would also excuse him two years of mandatory military service.
South Korea, which is still technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, requires all able-bodied men to serve almost two years in the military.
However, to foster its elite sports programme, South Korea awards athletes with exemptions for winning a gold medal at the Asian Games or a medal of any colour at the Olympics.
Coach Lee said the Koreans had what it takes to win gold at the Sept. 19 to Oct. 4 Games in Incheon, west of Seoul.
“We’re in the upper echelon in Asian football, and the objective befitting the quality of our team is to win the gold medal,” he said. “If we can prepare well, I am sure we’ll be able to meet our goal.”
He added that the three wildcards would have to step up and play a major role in South Korea’s quest for gold.
“These three players are better skilled than the younger ones, and are superior in every aspect,” Lee said. “They should form the core of this team.”
South Korea kick-off their Group A campaign against Malaysia on Sept. 14, five days ahead of the opening ceremony. (Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)