Thursday, June 20, 2024

Stoke City midfielder Bae Jun-ho dropped from Korean squad for Olympic qualifiers

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Bae Jun-ho of Team K League, center, dribbles the ball against Gambia at the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza, Argentina in this May 29, 2023 file photo. AP-Yonhap

Stoke City midfielder Bae Jun-ho will not be able to compete for Korea at the upcoming Olympic men’s football qualifying tournament due to club commitments, the national football federation announced Sunday, two days before the country’s first match.

The Korea Football Association (KFA) said Stoke City declined to release Bae for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar, citing club-related reasons. The AFC event, which doubles as the regional qualifiers for the Paris Olympics, isn’t on the FIFA international match calendar, and clubs are therefore not obliged to release their Asian players.

Bae, 20, would have been a key playmaker in midfield for Korea, as they try to make it to their 10th consecutive Olympic tournament. However, Stoke City deemed Bae too important to lose during the final stretch of their season in the second-tier English Football League Championship as they try to avoid relegation to the third division.

With three matches remaining, Stoke City sit only three points above the relegation zone with 47 points. Bae has been named the club’s Player of the Month for November, February and March this season.

The KFA named Ulsan HD FC midfielder Choi Kang-min as Bae’s replacement.

Korea head coach Hwang Sun-hong watches his players during a training session for the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Asian Cup at Transmitter Stadium in Doha, in this photo provided by the Korea Football Association, April 11. Yonhap

Korea head coach Hwang Sun-hong watches his players during a training session for the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Asian Cup at Transmitter Stadium in Doha, in this photo provided by the Korea Football Association, April 11. Yonhap

The top three teams from the 16-team AFC competition will earn spots in the Olympics, and the fourth-place team will take on Guinea in an intercontinental playoff later this year.

Korea head coach Hwang Sun-hong initially selected five overseas-based players for his squad at the end of March, but only two of them will play: Kim Min-woo of Dusseldorf and Jeong Sang-bin of Minnesota United.

Earlier this month, Celtic FC forward Yang Hyun-jun and Brentford FC defender Kim Ji-soo were also withheld by their respective clubs.

The AFC event kicks off Monday with the host country Qatar in action. Korea will play their first Group B match against the United Arab Emirates in Doha at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (local time) or 12:30 a.m. Wednesday (Korean time). Hwang’s team will later play China and Japan.

The top two teams from each of the four groups will reach the quarterfinals, which will be played on April 25 and 26. (Yonhap)



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