Stars absent, but opportunities abundant at East Asia event

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The absence of Premier League Golden Boot winner Son Heung-min and other stars from South Korea and Japan gives local players a late chance at the Asian Championships East to claim a World Cup.

South Korean coach Paulo Bento is preparing for matches against China, Hong Kong and hosts Japan next week, but is looking ahead to games against Uruguay, Ghana and Portugal when the World Cup kicks off in november.

“We will approach this tournament as preparation for the World Cup in Qatar,” said Bento, who has eight unselected players in his 23-man roster. “The newly selected players have been playing well in the K-League recently.”

Son has been involved in his English club Tottenham’s tour of South Korea and will miss the EAFF Men’s Championship which kicks off in Japan on Tuesday with the home side against Hong Kong. South Korea’s men’s team is scheduled to face China on Wednesday.

“It’s a shame that the training period for new members in the national team is short,” Bento said. “But we will ensure that they can better understand the tactics and philosophies pursued by the national team.”

One of these new players was Lee Ki-hyuk.

“I was having lunch at home and having a cup of coffee and when I found out I was selected for the national team I was stunned,” said the 22-year-old midfielder. “Looking at the list, I couldn’t believe it. It’s good to be selected, but on the other hand, I’m greedy… I want to make my name known.

Japan, preparing for a seventh consecutive World Cup appearance, stepped in to host the East Asian tournament in the cities of Kashima and Toyota after China waived hosting rights in April in due to restrictions imposed by Beijing for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japanese coach Hajime Moriyasu has selected an all-domestic roster for the tournament. Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, Real Madrid’s Takefusa Kubo and Monaco’s Takumi Minamino are just three of more than 20 Europe-based Japanese players busy pre-season with their clubs. Eleven of the 23 have never made the senior national team before.

But the tournament is not a preparation for the World Cup for all participating teams. China and Hong Kong will not be in Qatar but will have to prepare for the 2023 Asian Cup.

China have had a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign and handed the tournament over to Under-23 coach Aleksander Jankovic. He has only selected four players in his list who have previously represented the national team.

“We only focus on ourselves and represent the country with honor,” Jankovic said. “We respect all of our opponents, but we’ll be looking to play our own style and we’re looking forward to the tournament.”

Hong Kong are on top after qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup in June, their first appearance on the mainland since 1968.

The women’s tournament, which also kicks off on Tuesday, will serve as a useful warm-up for the 2023 World Cup for China, Japan and South Korea. Taiwan completes the quartet.

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