S. Korean players respond to challenges in Olympic football tuneup

SEOUL-- Prior to a friendly match against Ghana on Saturday, Kim Hak-bum, head coach of the South Korean men's Olympic football team, said he wanted to challenge his players and see how they'd respond to adversity.

Kim said he had been running his 28 players into the ground with tough conditioning drills since training camp opened at the end of May. This was in preparation for not just Saturday's contest against Ghana but for Olympic matches in Tokyo under notoriously hot and humid midsummer conditions.

But playing more than half of Saturday's match a man short wasn't the type of challenge Kim or his players had in mind. And South Korea came away with a 3-1 victory at Jeju World Cup Stadium in Jeju Island, with two of the goals coming after left fullback Kim Jin-ya got the direct red card.

While holding a 1-0 lead, Kim Jin-ya was slapped with an automatic ejection in the 39th minute. Moments earlier, Kim stepped on the right ankle of Joselpho Barnes in an ill-advised, late tackle, and a video review sealed Kim's fate.

Though it was only a friendly match, the video assistant referee (VAR) system was in place on Saturday to resemble the Olympic tournament setting.

In a match where the final score didn't matter as much as monitoring individual players' progress in the leadup to the Olympics, the main takeaway from Kim's automatic ejection was this: Don't commit careless fouls, because you won't get away with it due to VAR technology during the Olympics.

"I wanted to make it as physically demanding for the players as possible, and the guys made it harder on themselves," coach Kim said with a wry smile. "I think they must have learned that a momentary lapse of judgment can turn the whole game upside down."

Following the red card, South Korea held down the fort as Ghana tried to exploit the man advantage late in the first half. The visitors put even more pressure on the undermanned defense to start the second half, but it was South Korea that struck twice to build up a 3-0 lead.

After captain Lee Sang-min headed home the first goal in the 18th minute, substitute Lee Seung-mo doubled the lead in the 59th. Starting striker Cho Gue-sung rounded out the scoring for South Korea six minutes later. Ghana only managed one goal.

Coach Kim admitted afterward that Kim Jin-ya's red card threw a wrench into his game plan, but praised the remaining players for making quick adjustments.

"The players must have developed a better understanding of how to compete when we're a man short," the coach added. "We had to scramble to devise a new game plan (for the second half) and the players responded really well."

Asked what he wanted to accomplish in Saturday's match, Kim said, "This is just a part of the buildup to the Olympics. I'll continue to create challenging environments for my players and see how they rise to the occasion."

At his prematch and postmatch press conferences, Kim turned down questions about individual players, saying he wanted to focus on the whole team instead.

But one player who clearly left his mark was Cho, who withstood physical challenges from Ghanaian defenders and scored an impressive goal in the second half.

With his back to the target and a defender all over him, Cho deftly trapped a pass with his chest, turned and fired one into the net.

"I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself to score," Cho said. "I wanted to play hard and make sacrifices for the team. There were moments when I should have been more patient around the net. Still, I was just happy to get one for the team and help us win."

Ghana head coach Samuel Paa Kwesi Fabin mentioned Cho as one of the players that left a lasting impression on him.

"They have a very good team. They play with speed. Very impressed with them," he said. "Their striker was quite physical. If they keep on like this, I believe they'll do well at the Olympics."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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