So this weekend sees the bi-annual mini-competition known as the East Asian Cup, it’s a time for teams to trial new players, give youth a chance and a million other cliches that we could coin. It’s also Uli Stielike’s second tournament in only his first year at the helm of the Taegeuk Warriors and a lot of eyes will be watching on both in anticipation and expectation. Though not regarded as a major tournament by even the most passionate among the Red Devils it’s been 7 years since they brought the trophy home. There have been a few talking points with regards the tournament, some more major than others so below is a rundown on what I think are the needs to know and the major talking points.
This year’s East Asian Cup will be contested by South Korea, North Korea, Japan and hosts China. each team will play each other with the team with the most points running out victors. Players selected must play in one of the four countries that are playing in the tournament.
The Chances of Success
It’s hard to see past hosts China for this one , not only do they have home advantage but they come into this on the back of a good Asian Cup with pretty much their A-team selected. Sun Ke will be the man to watch in the tournament for them and if he performs to his best they will be tough to beat. Japan have also brought a strong squad with six players from Champions Gamba Osaka making the final squad with the slayer of FC Seoul Takashi Usami a cert to be leading the line. North Korea are obviously an unknown quantity but they put in a reasonable showing in the Asian Cup and could pull off an upset of two. South Korea, in my opinion, have an outside chance of success but it is slim and I reckon they’ll finish the tournament in third unfortunately. The main reason for this is down to the team selection which I’ll go into below.
Just like with the Asian Cup at the start of the year Uli had a decision to make on who would be his leader on the pitch and just like then this one has raised a few eyebrows. His man in Australia was Ki Sung Yeung, and few would argue that he got that one spot on. His man in China? Guangzhou Evergrande’s Kim Young Gwon. I don’t think many have an issue with the actual man himself being handed the armband, he is after playing for arguably the biggest team being represented at the tournament and perhaps the strongest league too but I think the issue has been that a home-based player was passed over for the role. In fairness there weren’t really too many standout players to choose from in the squad with Kim Shin Wook probably being the main challenger for the role but that was down in part to the players that he was able to choose from.
This brings me nicely onto the main issue….
The Selection Policy
When Uli announced his preliminary 50 man squad a lot of people were happy to see both Seongnam FC’s Hwang Uijo and Seoul E-Land’s Joo Mi Kyu had made the initial squad. Both have had pretty good seasons in front of goal so far with Hwang scoring in every competition he’s played and Joo, or Joominguez as he’s affectionately known to his fans, running up an impressive tally of 16 goals in his debut season for Martin Rennie’s men. Both players also made and scored in the K-League All-Stars challenge match and with Uli claiming that he was going to use this to judge the players for the East Asian Cup surely one if not both would make his final squad. Unfortunately for both men neither made it with Uli instead going with his favourite Lee Jeong Hyeop and a surprise recall for Kim Shin Wook. That he claimed he had chosen Kim based on his return of 8 K-League Classic goals this season made the decision all the more baffling. If the attacking selections were strange the remaining positions seemed equally as randomly filled. An array of J-League players including a goalkeeper from the J2 managed to keep out players such as Suwon’s Yeom Ki Hyun and E-Land’s Kim Young Kwang. It definitely appeared that anyone outside of Korea was being selected ahead of those plying their trade in the K-League. The selection of Kim Young Gwon as captain would go along way to supporting this argument. The East Asian Cup is seen as a time to bleed new talent or give some of the older players at the end of their career one last chance to win something, Uli’s selection seems to have followed neither train of thought. He will of course be vindicated if they return home with the trophy but he may just be faced with some awkward questions if they finish third or worse.