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(News Focus) More injury worries for S. Korea ahead of 2018 FIFA World Cup

2018/05/03 15:44

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By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, May 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's injury concerns have worsened ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup after one of their key defenders sustained an injury during a league match for his club.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors confirmed that their center back Kim Min-jae suffered a hairline fracture to his right shin during their K League 1 match against Daegu FC on Wednesday. Kim was taken off the pitch just 12 minutes after kickoff following a collision with an opposing player in the box.

Jeonbuk officials said the defender will be sidelined for four to six weeks.

"We'll have to run more tests in a week to find out Kim's exact injury status and recovery time," a Jeonbuk official said Thursday.

Kim has been a core player for both Jeonbuk and South Korea. Even though he made his international debut just last year and has played only seven matches, the 21-year-old has become a first choice defender by national team head coach Shin Tae-yong.

Kim has played in all five matches for South Korea this year, including two friendly matches in Europe against Northern Ireland and Poland.

Known for his speed, power and passing skills, Kim was considered a likely starting center back for South Korea at the 2018 World Cup, along with Jang Hyun-soo. But with his injury, Shin may have to change his center back combination with the World Cup less than 50 days away.

In this file photo taken March 27, 2018, South Korea's Kim Min-jae (R) defends against Poland's Piotr Zielinski during an international football friendly between South Korea and Poland at Silesian Stadium in Chorzow, Poland. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken March 27, 2018, South Korea's Kim Min-jae (R) defends against Poland's Piotr Zielinski during an international football friendly between South Korea and Poland at Silesian Stadium in Chorzow, Poland. (Yonhap)

This was another injury setback for Shin after his team lost left back Kim Jin-su. The 25-year-old, who also plays for Jeonbuk, injured his left knee against Northern Ireland in Belfast on March 24.

The former Hoffenheim defender was diagnosed with a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury, which medical staff said would require at least five weeks of recovery.

Shin admitted in his press conference Wednesday that injured players and those showing lack of form had been a headache for him ahead of the World Cup selections. Shin is scheduled to unveil his World Cup squad on May 14, but he has yet to settle on announcing 23 members only or adding a couple of extra bodies for the team's training camp.

"Because of Kim Jin-su and some other players, I haven't decided on the final roster," he said. "We can see players getting injured or having poor form at the end of the season, so that's why I'm thinking of naming additional players to the World Cup team."

   According to FIFA, the deadline to submit a 35-player preliminary roster is May 14, while the submission of the final list of 23 players is due June 4.

If neither Kim Min-jae nor Kim Jin-su can recover in time and find their old form, Shin will have no choice but to pick other players to fill their shoes at the World Cup.

In this file photo taken March 24, 2018, South Korea's Kim Jin-su is inspected by team doctors during international football friendly between South Korea and Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in Belfast. In this file photo taken March 24, 2018, South Korea's Kim Jin-su is inspected by team doctors during international football friendly between South Korea and Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in Belfast.

Shin revealed in Wednesday's press conference that he went to Japan last month to check on Yun Suk-young of Kashiwa Reysol, following Kim Jin-su's injury.

As for the center back position, Shin looked at Hong Jeong-ho as a possible backup, but the Jeonbuk defender didn't impress in the friendly against Poland and later sustained a hamstring injury. The situation forced Shin to turn his eyes to Jeong Seung-hyeon, who plays with Sagan Tosu in Japan.

The series of injuries in the defensive unit will aggravate South Korean fans' woes when they face superior World Cup group stage opponents. Since Shin took over the team in July 2017, South Korea have conceded 19 goals and scored 20 in 14 matches.

South Korea will open their World Cup Group F campaign with Sweden in Nizhny Novogorod on June 18 and face Mexico five days later in Rostov-on-Don. The Taeguk Warriors will then take on defending champions Germany in Kazan on June 27.

Shin was confident that South Korea's defense would improve before they play their first match in Russia, because they will have at least two weeks to build up defensive cohesion through intensive training and friendly matches. However, with their core players likely to miss World Cup tune-ups, it's doubtful he can accomplish the task.

"We have slim chances of winning (against our World Cup opponents) even if our players are 100 percent fit, but if our players are only about 70 to 80 percent ready, that's not enough," he said. "My biggest concern at this point is how I can make these players 100 percent fit."

  

In this file photo taken May 2, 2018, South Korea national football team head coach Shin Tae-yong listens to a reporter's question during a press conference at the Korea Football Association House in Seoul. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken May 2, 2018, South Korea national football team head coach Shin Tae-yong listens to a reporter's question during a press conference at the Korea Football Association House in Seoul. (Yonhap)

And as his concerns become reality, Shin may now think his side doesn't have enough time to train with its best defensive unit.

After announcing his World Cup roster, Shin will gather the players at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on May 21 to start training and preparing for the two friendlies at home. South Korea will host Honduras on May 28 and Bosnia and Herzegovina on June 1 before they fly to their pre-World Cup training in Austria. on June 3.

In Austria, South Korea will face Bolivia at Tivoli Stadium in Innsbruck on June 7 and take on Senegal at Das.Goldberg Stadium in Grodig on June 11 behind closed doors. South Korea will arrive at their World Cup base camp in St. Petersburg on June 12.

Shin may see his injured players recovered from injuries by the time the team reaches the base camp in Russia, but there's no guarantee they will be on their best form for the World Cup after missing some pre-tournament matches.

kdon@yna.co.kr

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