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World Cup Preview: South Korea vs Mexico

Coming off opposite ends of 1-0 opening round fixtures, South Korea and Mexico face a potentially World Cup defining match this weekend. After a surprising victory over defending champions, Germany, Mexico can punch their ticket to the knockout round with a win. Meanwhile, Korea are in desperate need of all three points if they are to salvage any hope of progressing following their narrow defeat vs Sweden. To preview the match, I spoke with Goal.com's Mexico & CONCACAF Correspondent, Jon Arnold, about the similarities between the countries in qualifying, potential weaknesses for each side, and frustration among Korean fans.

Ryan Asks, Jon Answers

Ryan Walters: In spite of rarely playing one another, South Korea and Mexico have a great deal in common heading into this match. Namely concerns about where the goals are going to come from having both been shut out multiple times in friendlies leading up to the tournament. Mexico alleviated a lot of these fears in the 1-0 win vs Germany, but do you think this is the match El Tri has circled as an opportunity to get well back on track scoring?

Jon Arnold: It certainly could be. Mexico has created loads of chances, but struggled to finish in the last few matches. That trend continued against Germany. Even though Mexico is thrilled to have beaten Germany, it could've been more.

After seeing Korea's showing against Sweden, combined with how Mexico played against Germany, I do think they're licking their chops a bit. Manager Juan Carlos Osorio is always talking about looking at the next game, but even he highlighted Sweden as an opponent that concerned him after the game against Germany. It will be a different style than Mexico played against Germany, with Osorio famous (or infamous) for changing things up and rotating in players, but it's a game where Mexico would love to continue generating confidence on the way to what it hopes will culminate in winning the group and getting an easier opponent than Brazil in the round of 16.

RW: Given those goal scoring woes, it seemed someone other than Chicharito, Chucky Lozano, or Carlos Vela would have to step up and fill the void. Has that been the feeling among the Mexican fanbase or within camp?

JA: No, I think those players are still on track as the stars of the tournament. The worries are more at the back with guys like Jesus Gallardo and Edson Alvarez making their World Cup debuts despite still playing in the Mexican domestic league. They played well against Germany, but the game against Korea won't have the same energy as facing the reigning world champion in the national stadium.

Lozano is off the mark with a goal, Vela looked superb against Gemany, and Chicharito held things together even if the chemistry on the counter-attack wasn't great. That front three is solid, though Jesus Corona and Raul Jimenez are waiting in the wings.

RW: Another worry for both sides heading into this match is issues along the backline. Regulars Néstor Araujo and Diego Reyes are out with injury, and the everlasting Rafa Márquez is starting to show his age. Does Mexico have the depth to keep up with the likes of Son Heungmin and Hwang Heechan, or will Osorio need to tinker tactically to compensate? Also, does JCO run the risk of outfoxing himself tinkering a bit too much?

JA: Hector Moreno is Mexico's best defender, and is healthy. Hugo Ayala is a worry, though. He held his own against Germany, but he's due for an error or two this tournament, so Son or Hwang could be able to take advantage. Mexico also has a center back playing right back in Carlos Salcedo and either Miguel Layun at left back, who is good quality, or Jesus Gallardo, a converted winger.

Osorio has overthought things before, but I think he's learned from his mistakes at previous major tournaments and has kept a strong base of the same players.

RW: Former Mexico Goalkeeper Oswaldo Sánchez said it’s a lack of concentration that has prevented Mexico from getting to ‘quinto partido’ in the past. Do you think El Tri run a similar risk of losing concentration in this match they will be heavily favored to win after the exhilaration of beating Germany? Who will the squad lean on to prevent that from happening?

JA: Well, there's the experience of Rafa Marquez, who came into the match against Germany on Sunday to become only the third player in history to play in his fifth World Cup. The real difference, though, is how many players on the Mexico squad are based abroad. In addition to Marquez, guys like Chicharito, Hirving Lozano, Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun and Andres Guardado have been in pressure-packed situations before playing in top level European competitions. I think that's why this will go down as Mexico's best-ever team in the World Cup , even if they suffer the same fate as so many past teams have and miss out on the quarterfinal.

RW: Score prediction?

JA: Mexico 2-0 Korea

Jon Asks, Ryan Answers

Jon Arnold: It seems like Korea is playing very cautiously and did as well in some of the pre-tournament friendly matches? Are the fans frustrated with the way Shin is asking the team to play?

Ryan Walters: It's something of a difficult task to find folks who aren't frustrated with the way Shin Taeyong has the team playing. While no one would fault the manager for emphasizing defense in a group with Sweden, Mexico, and Germany, the manner in which he's gone about it has been demoralizing. There has been so much emphasis on keeping the ball out of their own net, the team has had next to nothing to offer moving forward. A midfield boasting the likes of Ki Sungyueng, Koo Jacheol, and Lee Jaesung should be anything but static, but that's exactly what they have been given the shackles put upon them and the entire team. The midfield has continually set up far too deep and has so much space to cover on turnovers, that it's rendered counter attacking nearly impossible. Worse still, the team has been extremely slow to react to anything outside of defensive situations and rarely seems sure of where and how they want to move the ball.

The talent is unquestionably on this squad to put more pressure on the opposition, but they need more clearly defined roles and less restrictions. Hopefully with their backs against the wall this weekend, Shin will allow his most talented players more freedom at long last.

JA: Along the same lines, is Son getting his best chance for success? From the outside perspective, he's the most talented player on the team but is playing quite deep whereas you'd think he could excel more up front.

RW: Heading into the Sweden match, I really liked the 4-3-3 Korea came out in with Son in his more natural position on the wing. With the assumption that Sweden would give up possession the way they had in qualifying, it seemed a perfect opportunity for Son to get on the end of diagonal runs or create on his own. However, due to the deep lying midfield and overly defensive tactics, Son was forced deep to receive the ball and had miles to run on his own before even attempting to create any chances. Kim Shinwook proved ineffective in hold up play and wasn't able to be the outlet Son desperately needed to get onto the ball in more advanced positions.

The 4-3-3 was a good idea on paper as it seemed to offer the chance for Korea to go directly at Sweden, but the lack of ideas moving forward or any real goal scoring threats allowed the Swedes to take the ball and dictate the game. Some, but certainly not all, of the fault lies with Shin never lining his men up in that formation leading up to the tournament. Unsure of how to hit on the break or even where they needed to move, Korea weren't able to effectively get the ball to their most talented player. To remedy this, look for a reversion to what's worked in the past: a relatively flat 4-4-2 with Son returning to his striker role alongside Red Bull Salzburg's Hwang Heechan. It still may not utilize Son to his fullest, but at least he'll be farther up field.

JA: I saw Lee Yong's stats from the first game where he had the most touches in the game, but didn't complete a successful cross. He had some similar numbers in 2014. Are there no other options there or does he woo coaches with his defending so much that they overlook the attacking issues?

RW: In spite of not performing well in the World Cup, Lee Yong has been terrific at club level and seemed to have turned the corner heading into this tournament. He was one of the few bright spots moving forward in the Boznia and Herzegovina loss where he excelled in possession, held the ball up well, and put in some brilliant crosses. He has also played well going both ways in the AFC Champions League, so it seemed the nerves of the biggest stage weren't getting to him, but that may well be what this is. Regardless of what got to Lee, it should be noted the whole team was extremely poor crossing the ball and on set pieces. There were very few decent opportunities created through the air no matter who was sending it in.

Still, a change could be a good thing considering Korea are primed to set up defensively once more and need to be more effective with the few opportunities they do create. FC Seoul's Go Yohan seems the likely replacement given his time playing fullback at club level. His pace and off the ball runs have fostered a move into the midfield in K League, but he's an extremely capable fullback with good spacial awareness and one on one defending. Two things Korea will need in spades given the Mexican wingers that will be coming at them. If given the opportunity to run forward, Go is adept on the overlap with enough speed to push the play and put in a decent cross. He's also able to cut in directly and overload slower defenders like Mexico may have if they elect for a back three.

JA: Score prediction?

RW: It seems a touch too optimistic to even see Korea getting on the board, but they may be able to catch Mexico sleeping a bit if El Tri go up early. However, the attacking talent for Mexico will show through in the end and punch their ticket to the next round before having to face Sweden.

Mexico 2-1 Korea

We would once again like to extend our gratitude to Jon Arnold for his time and contribution to this match preview. Jon is the Mexican National Team and Concacaf contributor for Goal.com. To keep up-to-date with Jon's insights and analysis,  follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Editors Preview

Our Editors Matthew Binns, Paul Neat, and I sat down to discuss this match up before the group stage started. Here's how we saw it going down at that time.

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