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Hiddink welcomes Hong back to South Korea squad

© Reuters 2002

By Eoghan Sweeney

SEOUL, March 5 (Reuters) - With three challenging friendly matches coming up, Guus Hiddink expressed his delight on Tuesday at having South Korea's most-capped player, Hong Myung-bo, back in the national squad. Hong spent much of 2001 out of action because of a stress fracture, but has been recalled to the squad for the first time since the Confederations Cup last May.

"I'm glad he's back," the head coach said in a telephone interview from Seoul's international airport before leaving for a three-week tour that will see South Korea train in Spain and play friendlies against Tunisia, Finland and Turkey.

"He had a terrible time in Japan with that injury last year, but he's back in Korea, training well, and I'm very happy with his attitude."

Hong - who has made 123 international appearances for South Korea - put an end to three highly successful seasons in the J.League at the end of last year to return to the Pohang Steelers, the team with whom he started his career.

Having taken part in the Steelers' pre-season training and friendlies, the veteran sweeper appears to be returning to full fitness.

Hong, who is 33, has been a key member of the South Korean team in each of the last three World Cups, scoring against Spain and Germany in 1994, and there have been repeated calls in the Korean media for his inclusion in the squad.

There is extra pressure on the Dutchman because South Korea is co-hosting the World Cup finals in June with Japan. South Korea have never made the second round of a World Cup tournament.

Hiddink, who is using the tour as a chance to crystalise his thoughts on his squad for the finals, has insisted places in the team are based entirely on merit.

But he has been impressed by recent conversations with Hong.

"I've spoken a lot with him, and he's been very modest. I'm very happy with his attitude," he said. "He said to me, I don't want a position in the team based on the past. He's very clear-minded and very positive. He knows there's a lot of competition for places, and he's determined to earn his place."

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