Football: South Korea coach Hong gambles on Park for World Cup

SEOUL - South Korea coach Hong Myung-bo included Park Chu-young in his 23-man squad for the World Cup finals on Thursday, taking a gamble on the oft-injured striker who finished the season playing in the second tier of English football.

Hong opted not to name an expanded provisional squad, instead focusing on the 23 players he expects to take to Brazil. Teams have until June 2 to submit their final squad lists for the June 12-July 13 tournament.

Announcing the squad at a news conference held at the National Football Centre in Paju, north of Seoul, Hong said the Koreans had their work cut out to advance from a group that also includes Belgium, Russia and Algeria. "I think we face the most difficult challenge among the 32 teams that will be playing at the World Cup in Brazil," said Hong, who captained the South Koreans to the 2002 semi-finals on home soil.

The news conference started on a sombre note as Hong and other officials took a moment to reflect on the recent South Korean ferry disaster that left 269 confirmed dead and 35 still missing as of Thursday.

Hong, who wore a yellow ribbon in memory of the ferry victims, said he felt an enormous sense of responsibility ahead of the World Cup but was confident his young squad, which has only one player over 30, was well equipped for the task. "Compared to any of the previous sides, the squad we've just announced has a lot of experience for their age, and they've also performed well." The squad contained few surprises and is built around a core of young overseas-based players such as Ki Sung-yueng (Sunderland), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff) and Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen).

No fewer than 17 of the 23 players ply their trade abroad.

Park Chu-young, who was loaned out to Watford from parent club Arsenal earlier this year, marked his return to the international fold with a goal against Greece in March to boost his chances of making Hong's squad.

The willowy striker signed for Monaco in 2008 before joining Arsenal three years later. A combination of injuries and loss of form saw him fail to make an impression in the English Premier League and he was sent to Watford to kick start his career.

He has scored 24 goals in 62 appearances for the national team.