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South Korea’s national soccer team picks Son Jun-ho despite his detention in China

The selection of Son Jun-ho despite his detention in China took the focus off Premier League star Son Heung-min for once when South Korea’s soccer roster was unveiled.

Son Jun-ho, who plays for Shandong Taishan and won the 2021 Chinese championship with the Jinan-based club, has been held by Chinese authorities for almost four weeks since he was detained at Shanghai Airport last month.

Yet he was picked by South Korea’s head coach Jurgen Klinsmann this week for two international friendlies against Peru and El Salvador on June 16 and 20.

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Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Son, who represented South Korea at the World Cup last year in Qatar, was being investigated on suspicion of taking bribes.

Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post last month reported that the bribery allegations concerned suspected match-fixing involving coach Hao Wei.

The Korea Football Association (KFA) said despite visits by officials to China, it has collected little information about the nature of the allegations against the 31-year-old midfielder.

South Korea's Son Jun-ho

South Korea’s Son Jun-ho speaks during a press conference in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

Despite, or because of, the lack of clarity, Klinsmann called him up for international duty.

“We don’t know his state of mind, we don’t know what physical state he is in but I think it’s important to show Jun-ho support (so) he feels we’re right there behind him,” Klinsmann said in Seoul on Monday. “Obviously, we’re all shocked with the situation. We really hope and pray that he gets released. But it’s not in our hands. He’s on the list in case something happens.”

Klinsmann, the former U.S. head coach who was appointed to the South Korean job in February, selected the player in his first two games in charge against Colombia and Uruguay in March.

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But with doubt over his ability to report for national team duty, Klinsmann added that there was scope for flexibility with the squad.

“Our roster you see today might not be the roster you see next week,” he said. “It’s an open situation.”

According to reports in China, Son is the first foreign player to be caught up in the latest attempts by Beijing authorities to clean up the highest levels of Chinese soccer.

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Chinese soccer has struggled for years to rid itself of a reputation for corruption among coaches, team owners, players, referees and government sports officials.

Nearly a dozen high-profile figures have been arrested on corruption allegation s, including former men’s national coach Li Tie.

Son played seven seasons with South Korea’s Pohang Steelers and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors before joining Shandong Taishan in 2021 on a four-year contract.

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