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O'Neill gives Ji Dong-Won Olympics blessing
MARTIN O'NEILL is happy for Ji Dong-Won to push for gold at St James' Park this summer - even if it means the South Korean missing out on Sunderland's pre-season trip to his homeland.
The 21-year-old has been named in his country's Olympics squad and will join up with coach Hong Myung-Bo's pool of players next week.
They are due to have warm-up friendlies with New Zealand in Seoul on July 14 and then Senegal on July 20 at Stevenage ahead of the Olympics football tournament that begins six days later.
The Sunderland striker is hoping to start up front for Hong's team at the Games and he could figure in South Korea's opening match with Mexico at Newcastle on July 26.
South Korea are also scheduled to face Switzerland in Coventry on July 29 and Gabon on August 1 and are looking to progress to the latter stages of the competition, with the quarter-finals starting on August 4.
If South Korea did reach the latter stages then Sunderland would be unable to call on Ji in August friendlies with Derby County and Leicester City.
He will already have missed out on the Peace Cup matches in South Korea on July 19 and July 22 and he will not team up with the Sunderland squad for the first few days of pre-season training next week.
But sources close to the club suggest O'Neill is satisfied Ji has been called up for his country and is hoping the experience will benefit him ahead of a second season in the Premier League.
He struggled to make a significant impact after his £2m move from Chunnam Dragons last summer and made just two starts during the reigns of Steve Bruce and O'Neill combined.
But he did memorably score the New Year's Day winner against Manchester City at the Stadium of Light, when he emerged as a substitute to slot the winner beyond Joe Hart.
O'Neill has moved to promote former Sunderland skipper Kevin Ball as the club's new senior professional development coach.
Ball, who has served as Academy manager with responsibility for the Under-18s side, will now lead the Black Cats' reserve and Under-21s squads.
O'Neill made the move after confirmation that reserve team manager Keith Bertschin and development coach Stephen Clemence joined Bruce at Hull City. Former Darlington boss Craig Liddle will take over as Under-18s coach.