South Korea coach Colin Bell is desperate to protect 16-year-old United States-born attacker Casey Phair from “hype” ahead of her potential debut at the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday.
Bell called up the rookie for his South Korea squad for Australia and New Zealand, in a move that made headlines in the United States, Korea and beyond.
She is not expected to start for South Korea’s World Cup opener against Colombia on Tuesday in Sydney, but could be a secret weapon off the bench if they are chasing the game.
Speaking at Monday’s pre-match press conference, the Englishman Bell did his best to shut down questions about the teenager, who only turned 16 late last month.
“She did very well when she came in training with two other young players that we had,” the 61-year-old said, when asked what role Phair could play at the tournament.
“So now she’s in the squad, then we just take it day by day, so I don’t really want to hype up a young player too much before she’s even played.
“That’s why I’ve been safeguarding her from the media.”
Asked a second time about Phair, Bell replied: “Like I say, we’ll see. I am here to talk about the match tomorrow.”
Phair, born to an American father and Korean mother, is the first player of mixed descent to make the senior South Korean women’s football squad.
She was previously involved with youth squads for the US national team.
Bell may be desperate to shelter her, but speaking earlier this month, Phair shared her excitement at playing at the World Cup.
“I feel really proud and honoured to be given this opportunity,” she told reporters at South Korea’s national football centre, according to Yonhap news agency.
“I’m ready and willing to do whatever it takes to help the country.”
South Korea face a tough task to get out of a Group H that also contains debutants Morocco and European heavyweights Germany.
Their recent results have been mixed, beating fellow World Cup qualifiers Zambia and Haiti in friendlies, but losing to Italy, Belgium and England.
Bell said there would be times when his team, who are ranked 17th in the world, would need to “weather the storm”.
“We had a long conversation last week with each other.
“We are prepared in the 90, 95, 98 minutes or however long the match will be to really go on to our limit and to suffer (to the point) that it will hurt — every metre, every kilometre that they run, every sprint.
“But that’s what we want to see from our players.
“In Korean we have a saying (that means), ‘We never give up.’
“And we will not give up until that final whistle goes tomorrow.”
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