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Coach sticks to familiar faces for World Cup tuneups amid injuries

In this Press Association photo via Associated Press, Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates his team's 5-0 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road in Norwich, England, on Sunday. (Associated Press)
In this Press Association photo via Associated Press, Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates his team's 5-0 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road in Norwich, England, on Sunday. (Associated Press)

South Korea will mostly roll with familiar names as they host four friendly matches next month in preparation for this year's FIFA World Cup.

Head coach Paulo Bento unveiled a 28-man roster for the men's national team Monday ahead of June matches.

They will host Brazil on June 2, Chile on June 6 and Paraguay on June 10. South Korea are also set to play on June 14, likely against an African opponent. The Korea Football Association had tried to schedule a match against Argentina, but those talks fell through.

Bento's hands were tied by injuries to some key players.

Fenerbahce defender Kim Min-jae, a rock on the backline for South Korea, returned home earlier this month to undergo season-ending ankle surgery. A potential replacement for Kim, Park Ji-su of Gimcheon Sangmu FC, went down with a hamstring injury last Tuesday.

Crafty midfielder Lee Jae-sung suffered a right knee injury while playing for Mainz 05 in Germany. Lee missed about a month with knee issues, and the right knee flared up again just seven minutes into his first match back on May 14.

Two other German-based players with international experience, Lee Dong-gyeong of Schalke 04 (foot) and Lee Dong-jun of Hertha BSC (knee), have both missed time with injuries.

Bento went with an expanded squad, picking a few players more than usual, but only two new faces earned international callups for the first tiem: Daejeon Hana Citizen defender Cho Yu-min and Gangwon FC midfielder Kim Dong-hyun.

Cho, 25, appeared in 11 matches for the under-23 national team, including six matches during South Korea's gold medal run at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

"He is a center back that competes well. He shows good aggressiveness in the defensive process," Bento said of the K League 2 defender during his online press conference. "We have some problems in the defensive sector, especially among central backs, and it's an opportunity for him. Of course, he plays in a different context than our context. It's important for us to see him in this moment."

Suwon FC defender Park Min-gyu, who was brought in for the first time in March but missed matches due to COVID-19 infection, earned his second callup. Backup goalkeepers Song Bum-keun and Kim Dong-jun are also looking for their first senior international action.

"We tried to make the best possible list. We know that we have some problems with some important players, players that usually come with us," Bento said. "We will try to prepare the team as well as possible in order to face three strong opponents in the short period of time."

Leading the attack will be the reigning Premier League Golden Boot winner, Son Heung-min. The longtime national team captain finished the 2021-2022 season with 23 goals for Tottenham Hotspur, finishing tied for the lead with Mohamed Salah of Liverpool. Son is the first Asian player to win the Golden Boot in league history.

"That is a good achievement for him. All of us would like to congratulate him," Bento said of Son. "All of us are happy for him and this is really important in the moment."

At the World Cup, South Korea will face Portugal, Uruguay and Ghana in Group H.

This will be South Korea's 10th consecutive appearance at the World Cup and 11th overall. They have made it past the group stage twice: first in 2002, when they reached the semifinals while serving as a co-host with Japan, and then in 2010 in South Africa, where they fell to Uruguay in the round of 16. (Yonhap)

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