(Reuters) – South Korea’s Park Jong-woo, who was banned from the Olympic podium at the London Games for displaying a political message after the bronze medal match, has been called up to the senior national team for the first time for a World Cup qualifier.
Park was not allowed to collect his bronze medal following Korea’s 2-0 win over Japan earlier this month after he held up a sign referring to a territorial dispute between the Asian neighbours.
Park held up a placard that read: "Dokdo is our territory", helping inflame fresh controversy after a surprise visit to the islands by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
The disputed islands, controlled by South Korea but also claimed by Japan, lie equidistant from the two countries and are believed to contain frozen natural gas deposits potentially worth billions of dollars.
Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, also opened disciplinary proceedings against the player while the Korean Olympic Committee asked Park not to attend official banquets or functions to celebrate South Korea’s first Olympic soccer medal.
However, national coach Choi Kang-hee said Park was a good addition to the squad for the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan in Tashkent on September 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.
"Park is tough as a midfielder and has a lot of movement. Defensively he’s aggressive. We don’t have a player like that in the national team."
South Korea have two wins from two matches and lead Group A in the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They will gain automatic qualification by finishing first or second in the group.
(Writing by Peter Rutherford in Singapore; Editing by John O’Brien)
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