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S. Korea calls up London Olympic heroes for East Asian Cup football

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

PAJU, South Korea, July 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Thursday unveiled a men's national football roster featuring stars from last year's London Olympics for an upcoming continental tournament it will host.

The men's squad for the July 20-28 East Asian Cup will have 23 players, five of whom helped South Korea win the bronze medal in London last summer.

Hong Myung-bo, the national team head coach, served as the bench boss for the Olympic squad last year and guided the country to its first Olympic football medal.

Organized by the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF), the round-robin event will bring together South Korea, Japan, Australia and China on the men's side. South Korea will face Australia on July 20 in Seoul, China on July 24 in Hwaseong and Japan on July 28 in Seoul.

South Korea typically names about a dozen players from overseas leagues for international matches. However, European seasons kick off in August and pro clubs there aren't obligated to release their international players for the East Asian Cup so close to the start of their new seasons.

Head coach Hong Myung-bo this month attended several games in the K League Classic, the first division in South Korea, to scout players and for the most part, he went back to some of his former pupils in London based in South Korea, Japan and China.

Park Jong-woo of Busan IPark in the K League Classic headlines the list of Olympic heroes. The previously unheralded Park provided a strong defensive presence in midfield for South Korea in London, and also made international headlines for his controversial celebration of South Korea's victory over Japan in the bronze medal contest.

Kim Chang-soo of Kashiwa Reysol in Japan's J. League and Kim Young-gwon of Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League, two defensive backs from the London squad, will also dress for the East Asian Cup. Other Olympic members on this squad are goalkeeper Lee Beom-young and defensive back Hwang Seok-ho.

Defenders Hong Jeong-ho of Jeju United and Jang Hyun-soo of FC Tokyo, and midfielder Han Kook-young of Shonan Bellmare in Japan, also made the East Asian Cup team. These players initially made the Olympic team but were replaced before or during the Games after suffering injuries.

Among the familiar names for the East Asian Cup are starting goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong of Suwon, who has played in 47 international matches, and Ulsan striker Kim Shin-wook, a mainstay for South Korea during the regional qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Overall, 14 players are from the K League Classic and one is from the second-division K League Challenge. Seven players are based in the J. League and one plays in China.

This will be the first international competition as the national team head coach for Hong, who succeeded Choi Kang-hee last month, after South Korea qualified for the World Cup.

South Korea barely squeezed into the World Cup, with its qualification tournament marred by a string of subpar matches. At a news conference at the National Football Center in Paju, Hong said the East Asian Cup will be the opportunity for the national team "to regain the fans' trust" in South Korean football.

"I selected players that I felt will be competitive for the World Cup next year," Hong said. "Most of the players spent a couple of years with me. And since I know how much they've grown over time, I know how much they can improve over the next year."

Of 23 players, only five have made at least 10 international appearances. Hong said he didn't focus on players' past experience and only considered their potential for improvement.

"The competition (for roster spots for the World Cup) will begin right now," the coach said. "National team veterans will all have to go back to scratch and battle new players."

The big test will be the much-anticipated showdown against the regional rival Japan on July 28. Even though Japan is expected to field a team of young players, any South Korea-Japan clash in football generates plenty of interest.

South Korea won the inaugural East Asian Cup in 2003 and added the second title in 2008. This will be the fifth East Asian Cup for men.

On the FIFA rankings for men, Japan is the highest-ranked participant at No. 37, followed by Australia at No. 40 and South Korea at No. 43. China is 100th.

The East Asian Cup will also have the women's competition, with South Korea, North Korea, Japan and China in action. The North Korean women's team will make its first trip to South Korea since the 2005 East Asian Cup.

The last time any North Korean sports team played on South Korean soil was April 1, 2009, when the two Koreas clashed in Seoul for an Asian qualifying match for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. South Korea prevailed 1-0.

This is the fourth East Asian Cup for women. South Korea took the inaugural title in 2005 and Japan won the next two in 2008 and in 2010.

In the latest women's FIFA world rankings, Japan is the highest-ranked country among the East Asian Cup participants at No. 3, followed by North Korea at No. 9, South Korea at 16th and China at 17th.

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