‘Will Lee Kang-in come? Who will replace Lee Sang-min?’ Hwang Sun-hong still has a lot of variables…”We’re considering Plan C”

안전놀이터The Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games are less than two months away. But for Hwang Sun-hong-ho, it’s still up in the air.

The U-24 Asian Games football team, led by Hwang Sun-hong-ho, convened at the Paju National Football Centre (NFC) on Friday afternoon.

The call-up will last for three days, from 25 to 27 November. The training comes as the K League 1 enters a short break following the conclusion of the 24th round last weekend.

Only 14 of the 21 players currently on the final roster are in the NFC, including Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain), Jung Woo-young (Stuttgart), Park Kyu-hyun (Dynamo Dresden) and Hong Hyun-seok (Gent), as well as overseas players Baek Seung-ho (Jeonbuk), Seol Young-woo (Ulsan) and Hwang Jae-won (Daegu) who were selected for Team K League. Despite being down to seven players, it’s a valuable training opportunity for Hwang, who hasn’t had many call-ups.

[Photo] Lee Kang-in / Paris Saint-Germain social media.

Before training, Hwang received some good news. Lee’s injury wasn’t too serious.

Lee felt pain in his thigh during a recent pre-season friendly against Le Havre. After starting and performing well, he suddenly grabbed the back of his thigh after a run in the 42nd minute and was immediately substituted.

Lee has since flown to Japan for the Asian tour but has not trained with the team. His hamstring injury is a concern, but fortunately, it’s something he can recover from in a couple of weeks.

When asked about Lee Kang-in’s injury, Hwang Sun-hong said, “They said he needs up to a fortnight. I told him it’s not serious,” he said, adding, “You have to be careful with muscles because you don’t know when or where the problem will come back. We have time before the competition, so I think it will recover well enough.”

[OSEN=Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Eunjung Cho]

[OSEN=Park Joon-hyung] Seongnam FC Lee Sang-min 2023.07.09 / soul1014@osen.co.kr

But there is a problem. It’s still unclear who will replace Lee Kang-in and who will replace Lee Sang-min, who was suspended for drink-driving. With so many variables still up in the air, the worst-case scenario is that the team will have to compete with just 20 players instead of 22.

“I’m thinking about it,” said a troubled Hwang Sun-hong. “I hope it doesn’t happen, but it’s a possibility, and we’re making plans for that as well. I have to keep thinking about it until I make a decision.”

Hwang Sun-hong is even thinking of a plan C. “Actually, we wanted to start completely from the A-match period in September,” he said. “There is the issue of Lee Kang-in, there is the issue of the A-team. “We are considering several plans from A to C,” he explained.

For now, Hwang is optimistic about Lee’s chances. “It’s hard to say, but I can confirm that there was a positive exchange between Lee and PSG when they signed him. However, it’s difficult to say ‘yes or no’ because I haven’t seen it in writing. But I’m positive about it. Lee Kang-in’s intention to play in the Asian Games is also very strong. I am thinking positively.”

[Photo] Lee Sang-min / Courtesy of the Korean Football Association.

More difficult will be finding a replacement for Lee. He was caught driving under the influence of alcohol in 2020 while playing for Asan in Chungcheongnam Province, and only reported to the club after playing three games without informing them. The KFA suspended him for 15 games and fined him 4 million won.

Lee Sang-min was fined 5 million won for the incident. Despite this, he was selected for the U-23 national team in October 2021 and played six games for Hwangseon Hongho, starting with the 2022 U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers. This is in violation of the KFA’s rules, which state that a person who has been sentenced to a fine of 5 million won or more and whose sentence has not been finalised for three years is ineligible to wear the national team’s jersey.

The KFA issued an apology on the 18th and removed Lee from the final roster for the Asian Games. However, it is unclear if a new player will be selected to replace him. Changes to the final roster can only be made for medical reasons, such as injury, up to six hours before a match.

[Photo] Courtesy of the Korean Football Association.

For now, the KFA is checking with the Korea Sports Federation to see if a replacement can be selected, but has yet to hear back. On the 25th, coach Hwang Sun-hong said, “The KFA is also working on various aspects. It’s hard to say because it’s not a definite situation. We need time, so please be patient,” he said.

Hwang will be under a lot of pressure as he is aiming for gold. Lee Kang-in, Baek Seung-ho, Chung Woo-young and Cho Young-wook are among the players who will be serving their national service. The Asian Games are more important than ever, but Hwang’s chances of success have been threatened by a number of factors.

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