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Asian Games team revealed

1 wildcard pick proves controversial, although Son, Jo will also play
July 17,2018
Kim Hak-bum
Kim Hak-bum, head coach of the Korean U-23 football team, announced the 23-man roster for the 2018 Asian Games on Monday.

Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur, Jo Hyeon-woo of Daegu FC and Hwang Ui-jo of Gamba Osaka were selected as Kim’s wildcard players. Unlike other sports, football players competing at the Asian Games have to be under the age of 23, with the exception of three wildcard players of any age.

As expected, Son will make his Asian Games debut. During the FIFA World Cup, Son was Korea’s leading scorer with two goals. Though the Asian Games is not considered an official tournament on the FIFA calendar, it could be the most important tournament of Son’s career - winning a gold will allow him to earn an exemption from mandatory military service and continue his career in the English Premier League.

“Son will definitely play, but we don’t know when he will join the team,” Kim was quoted as saying on Yonhap. “Son is eager to play at the Asian Games, and he is an essential player to use. We hope he can join the team as soon as possible because adjusting to the hot weather in Indonesia isn’t easy.”

While Son’s addition to the team as a wildcard was predicted, Jo Hyeon-woo’s addition wasn’t expected until the FIFA World Cup, as he wasn’t a familiar goalkeeper for the national team. During the group match against the defending champion Germany, Jo showed his strength, shutting down any chance of the then-reigning champions scoring a goal. Jo was selected as the man of the match for the game and was even selected by BBC readers as the goalkeeper for a “best eleven” team based on group stage results.

“Considering what Jo has shown at the World Cup, we thought it would not be a problem to include him,” Kim was quoted as saying.

Both Son and Jo proved their worth as wildcards through the World Cup but Kim’s last pick, Hwang Ui-jo, was by far the biggest surprise. Hwang, a striker for Gamba Osaka, didn’t compete at the recent World Cup, raising eyebrows over his inclusion on the team.

“I know Hwang’s selection might draw some controversy,” Kim was quoted as saying. “Some people will ask me why I selected Hwang instead of Suk Hyun-jun, but Hwang has very good form right now.”

As Jo and Hwang have also not yet completed their mandatory military service, winning gold at the Asian Games is also going to be their last opportunity for an exemption.

In addition to the three, two more players that competed at the 2018 FIFA World Cup - Hwang Hee-chan of Red Bull Salzburg and Lee Seung-woo of Hellas Verona - were also added to the roster as they are under 23 years old.

Before heading to Indonesia, Korea will play in a friendly match on Aug. 9 against Iraq.

BY SONG JI-HOON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]