Sunderland striker gets Olympic call-up

Ji Don-won
Ji Don-won
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JI Dong-Won has been called up into South Korea’s Olympic squad for London 2012, which means he will miss out on Sunderland’s pre-season trip to his homeland.

The Black Cats play in the four-team Peace Cup in South Korea in July hoping to make a big impact in Asia and Ji would have been a big part of that publicity drive.

But Ji – who has scored eight goals in his 16 international outings and is hugely popular in his homeland – will be unavailable as he works on preparations for the Olympics with his national side.

The 21-year-old was yesterday named in South Korea coach Hong Myung-Bo’s 23-man squad for the Olympic men’s football which runs from July 26 until August 11.

The dates of the tournament itself do not overlap with Sunderland’s cup games in Korea on July 19 and 22 but South Korea have also lined up warm-up friendlies against New Zealand in Seoul on July 14 and then Senegal in England on July 20.

Losing their most recognisable figure for the trip is a blow for Sunderland, who are using their visit to South Korea to raise their profile in Asia and attract a following in the Far East.

But South Korean fans are still likely to turn out in numbers to see Ji’s club in action against K-League side Seongnam and either German side Hamburg or Dutch outfit Groningen, who meet in the other semi-final.

And Ji’s presence in Seoul for the game against New Zealand will whet the appetite of South Korean fans ahead of Sunderland’s visit.

Ji joined Sunderland from Chunnam Dragons last summer in a £2m deal and has worked hard adapt to the demands of the Premier League.

He made only two league starts in his first season, with the rest of his 19 league appearances coming from the subs’ bench but he finished the season with two goals - scoring in Sunderland’s 4-1 home defeat against Chelsea in September but also notching the never-to-be-forgotten injury-time winner against Manchester City at the Stadium of Light on New Year’s Day.

South Korea are in Group B in the Olympic tournament, with their first Olympic game pitting them against Mexico at Newcastle United on July 26.

They then move on to Coventry to play Switzerland on July 29 and then on to Wembley to play Gabon on August 1.

If they finish first or second in their group they will qualify for the quarter-finals on August 4, with the semi-finals scheduled for August 7.

The losing semi-finalists play each in the bronze medal match on August 10, with the finalists meeting on August 11.

If South Korea get beyond the quarter-finals Ji will miss virtually all Sunderland’s pre-season games but will at least return to Wearside match-fit.