SEOUL, South Korea — A shortage of club playing time for Asia’s top players is causing headaches for the region’s national teams ahead of World Cup qualifiers in the coming week.
South Korea, Japan and Australia are three nations expecting to reach the 2014 World Cup, but their qualification campaigns are being hampered by many of their top players warming the bench with their club sides in Europe.
Sunderland’s Ji Dong-won and Arsenal’s Park Chu-young, who have both had limited game time in the Premier League, are likely to lead the attack in a vital qualifier in Lebanon on Friday as will attacking midfielder Koo Ja-cheol who has started just two matches for German club Wolfsburg.
“I am not worried about match sharpness,” South Korea coach Cho Kwang-rae said last month. “I was also a player who had a long career for club and country and when you have lots of experience and are in a good physical condition then you don’t lose your ability to switch on for competitive games.”
Park has scored seven goals in his past four appearances for the national team. Also, he found the net for Arsenal in a recent League Cup match against Bolton. Park signed for the London club from Monaco at the end of August but is still waiting for his first Premier League appearance.
“I will try my best to show that I am in the best condition and show that I am good enough to play there,” Park said last week.”My training and my lifestyle is helping me adjust to the English game. At the moment I don’t have any problems at all, I am in good condition.”
Ji has scored once for Sunderland and though he has yet to start a game, the young striker has made eight appearances off the bench and came on after just five minutes against Manchester United.
Ki Sung-yong at Celtic in Scotland and Son Heung-min at Hamburg are the only European-based Korea squad members who are regular starters with their clubs.
Japan’s Makoto Hasebe is in a similar situation at Wolfsburg. He has featured more on the right side of defense this season than his usual position as a defensive midfielder and was an unused substitute during last weekend’s loss at Borussia Dortmund.
Also named in the Japan squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Tajikistan and Japan are German-based midfielder Hajime Hosogai and defender Tomoaki Makino. Hosogai has played at left-back this season for Augsburg while Makino has managed just one appearance for Cologne.
eenage striker Takashi Usami was part of Japan’s squad in the summer but was not selected in the latest squad. Usami has played just 21 minutes of the Bundesliga season since joining Bayern Munich in August. Usami is happy to be patient at one of Europe’s leading clubs.
“There is something to gain from continuing to be on this team,” Usami told Japanese media recently “I’m grateful to be playing at any level. I’ve been able to change my mindset and accept my situation in a positive way.”
Australia, the newest member of the Asian Football Confederation, can empathize with Japanese and Korean experiences. While Tim Cahill and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer are stalwarts in the English Premier League, others who have been named in the squad to take on Oman and Thailand are in and out of line-ups all over the continent.
Matt McKay was one of the Socceroos’ most impressive performers at the 2011 Asian Cup and was named the Australian Player of the Year in October but has also been short of playing time since leaving the A-League for Glasgow Rangers in August. He made his first league start least weekend.
“I’ve played a few reserve games but it’s not the same as playing first-team football,” McKay said last month.”It’s a massive club and I want to start playing. I’m a bit disappointed but I’ve got to get my head down. When my chance comes I’ll need to make sure I’m ready to take it and hopefully keep myself in the team.”
Young striker Robbie Kruse at Fortuna Dusseldorf in Germany’s second tier has been in and out of the team. Adam Sarota in the Netherlands has played just once, with James Troisi in Turkey and Chris Herd in England featuring in less than half of their club’s matches.
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