HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hosts South Korea go into this week’s East Asian Championship as favourites after coach Paulo Bento selected a strong squad ahead of meetings with Japan, China and Hong Kong in Busan.
With the competition being played outside the windows set aside for international competition, none of the nations involved have called up their Europe-based players but Bento has still been able to pick a squad packed with quality.
The Portuguese coach’s line-up leans heavily on the Jeonbuk Motors side that won the K-League title last weekend and is bolstered by leading talent from around the region.
World Cup goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo has been included and two-time Asian Champions League winner Kim Young-gwan is expected to captain the team, while Kim Jin-su, Park Jo-hoo and Kim Bo-kyung all boast significant experience of playing in Europe.
The Koreans kick off their campaign on Wednesday against Hong Kong, who qualified for the finals by seeing off North Korea in the preliminary rounds.
That clash comes 24 hours after Japan and China face off in the tournament opener with neither nation selecting a squad that, on paper at least, should be able to compete with the Koreans.
Without a head coach following Marcello Lippi’s resignation last month, China have sent a reserve squad under the care of former Everton midfielder Li Tie, who led Wuhan Zall to sixth place in the Chinese Super League in the just-completed season.
Li has selected a squad that features a smattering of senior internationals, several of whom had been overlooked in the latter stages of Lippi’s reign.
Guangzhou Evergrande striker Wei Shihao impressed in this competition two years ago and returns to the squad, while the likes of Yu Dabao, Jiang Zhipeng and Zhang Xizhe bolster an otherwise inexperienced team.
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu has chosen a squad made up entirely of domestic-based players with one eye on next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Japan qualified automatically for the Olympic tournament as hosts and the East Asian Championship will give several players including Ao Tanaka, the J-League’s Rookie of the Year, the chance to push their case for 2020 selection.
Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Peter Rutherford