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Stripped-back Korean squad lose final friendly before U-23 Asian Cup

The U-23 Korean national team reacts after an AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifier against Myanmar at Changwon Football Center in Changwon, South Gyeongsang on Sept. 12, 2023. [NEWS1]

The U-23 Korean national team lost 1-0 to Saudi Arabia in a closed-door friendly on Tuesday, suffering a defeat in the final tune-up game ahead of the AFC U-23 Asian Cup that begins next week.During the friendly that took place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where Korea had been training, the young Taeguk Warriors conceded the winner to Jihad Zakry in the 72nd minute.  The U-23 side’s loss to Saudi Arabia came after they beat the Middle Eastern side 1-0 in the semifinals of the West Asian Football Federation, where they went on to win the tournament as an invitee last month.The U-23 squad are playing without midfielder Bae Jun-ho of Stoke City, who displayed a convincing performance against Saudi Arabia last month.  
Bae was not released to join the U-23 team for the friendly or the upcoming Asian Cup, which falls outside of the FIFA international break schedule. Stoke City refused to release Bae as the team fights to avoid relegation in the final few games of the Championship season.   Stoke sit in 19th place on the 24-team table as of press time Thursday. The bottom three teams face relegation to the third division next season.  With the Asian Cup starting next week and Stoke having yet to release Bae for the tournament, the 20-year-old will likely miss the competition. Other Europe-based players like Celtic midfielder Yang Hyun-jun and Brentford defender 슬롯게이밍 Kim Ji-soo are also unable to join the U-23 team.  


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