Upon returning to the Hwangsun Hongho after a year and three months absence, Minnesota’s Norman Normal calls the Olympics his “dream stage” and is eager to get there.
In an interview ahead of the official pre-tournament training for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup 2024 at the Changwon Soccer Center Auxiliary Stadium on Friday, he talked about what it’s like to be back aboard the Hwangsun, life in the United States, and more.
The U-22 team, led by Hwang Sun-hong, will take on Qatar in the first match of Group B of the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers on June 6 at 8 p.m. at the Changwon Football Center Main Stadium.
The tournament, which doubles as the first Asian qualifier for the Paris Olympics, will see South Korea play Qatar on June 6, Kyrgyzstan on June 9 and Myanmar on June 12. The match against Qatar will be a friendly as Qatar will not be counted in the standings as they will be hosting the U-23 Asian Cup next April.
A total of 16 teams will qualify for the U-23 Asian Cup, including the top two teams from each of the 11 qualifying groups, the top four teams from Group 2 and the hosts Qatar.
The U-23 Asian Cup will be held in April next year as the final Asian qualifier for the Paris Olympics. The top three teams from the tournament will qualify directly for the Olympic Games, while the fourth-placed team will have to play a playoff against the fourth-placed team from the African qualifiers for the Olympic berth.
The call-up comes just one year and three months after Hwang’s appointment. He participated in the U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan in June last year, but has not been in the Olympic squad since.
He had a tough time last year. In 2021, the former Suwon Samsung Youth Matango player made his mark in the first team, especially with his pace and off-the-ball movement that earned him the title of “Matango” and helped Suwon rise to prominence. In June of that year, he was called up to the national team led by Paulo Bento, scoring his first goal on his A-match debut.
Since then, Sang-bin has made it to Europe. In January last year, he signed a contract with Premier League club Wolverhampton (England) before leaving on loan to Wolverhampton’s satellite club Grasshopper (Switzerland) due to difficulties in obtaining a work permit.
However, his career took a turn for the worse in the ambitious Swiss league. Injuries made it difficult for him to get playing time, and he ended up playing just 13 games in the Swiss Super League in two seasons, 2021/22 and 2022/23, with no offensive points. He scored two goals in three games in the lower leagues.
Topbin eventually found a place to play and joined the Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States. He moved to Minnesota United in March. He was treated well and gradually increased his playing time, scoring one goal and one assist in 17 games.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the national team, but I think it’s really important because we’re starting our first Olympic qualifier, so I’m ready to work as a team with all the players and get off to a good start,” he said.
When asked about the many changes he went through after leaving Suwon, he said, “I think, as everyone knows, after I left Suwon, everything was very difficult.” He added, “I was in Switzerland, and I didn’t play a lot of games, and I had a lot of injuries. But when I moved to the United States earlier this year, I met a lot of good people and had a lot of good opportunities, so I think my situation changed a lot.” He reflected.
“In terms of soccer skills, I have a lot of experience. I learned a lot on the field, from the players, and from watching my older brothers on the national team, but I think I’ve improved because living abroad is really difficult. Living alone and the language were the most difficult things,” he said.
As for life in the U.S., he said, “From the first time I went, they treated me very well. I am living in a much better environment than when I was in Switzerland.”
Now, he’s back with Hwang Sun Hong Ho and dreaming of the big time at the Olympics. “I watched all 메이저토토사이트 the games at the last Tokyo Olympics. I watched everything my brothers did. The Olympics is not an easy competition. I think it’s a dream stage for all athletes. I think I’m making a lot of effort to try to reach that stage as well.”
“I think what coach Hwang Sun-hong expects from me is to be more aggressive and to emphasize a lot of off-the-ball movement and things like that, so I’m trying to work on those things,” he said.