Controversial Korean player gets senior call-up

Kyodo

Park Jong Woo, who was banned from the Olympic podium for displaying a political message after the bronze-medal men’s soccer match at the London Olympics, has been called up by the senior national team for the first time for a World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan, the Korea Football Association announced Wednesday.

Park was not allowed to receive his bronze medal following South Korea’s 2-0 victory over Japan earlier this month after he raised a sign referring to a territorial dispute between the Asian neighbors.

The sign read “Dokdo is our territory,” helping to aggravate the controversy after South Korean President Lee Myung Bak made a surprise visit to one of the disputed Sea of Japan isles, known in Japan as Takeshima.

Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, has opened disciplinary proceedings against the player and the Korean Olympic Committee asked Park not to take part in any functions to celebrate South Korea’s first Olympic soccer medal.

National coach Choi Kang Hee, however, has said that Park is a welcome addition to the squad for the 2014 World Cup qualifier in Tashkent on Sept. 11.

“I watched the games during the Olympics,” Choi told reporters on Wednesday. “When the Olympics were over, I spoke to coach Hong Myung Bo. The assessment is that he is good enough to play in the national team,” he said.

South Korea leads Group A after two wins from two matches in the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It can secure automatic qualification by finishing first or second in the group.