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World Cup Preview: Sweden vs South Korea

World Cup 2018 Group F Preview: Sweden vs South Korea

South Korea finally kick off their World Cup campaign this Monday as they take on Sweden in Group F. Shin Tae-yong's men have not had the best of lead-ups to this tournament given the disappointing friendly performances and injuries sustained to key personnel, but will be hoping the showings Janne Andersson's Sweden side in their warm-up matches could still give them a chance of victory. Our site editor Matthew Binns spoke with football journalist Lee Roden about what to expect when these two sides meet.

Matthew asks, Lee answers


Matthew Binns: Sweden arrive in Russia as a squad that look greater than the sum of their parts thanks to an impressive qualifying campaign that saw them knock out World Cup stalwarts Italy en route. What has been the main contributing factor to this visibly galvanised side?

Lee Roden: It seems quite obvious but I think it has been largely about going back to basics and starting from scratch, accepting that Sweden aren't a team of world class elite footballers and therefore trying to play to the collective strength while hopefully minimising individual weaknesses. In that regard, it's pretty obvious when you watch Sweden defend against much better teams that they're happy to cede space on the wings and defend aerial balls into the box – they're a tall team that's good in the air, and will bat those kind of balls back at you all day as Italy found out.

MB: Since qualifying, recent friendlies have not produced the most encouraging results. Will this be of concern to the manager and what appears to be their most notable area of weakness heading into this tournament?

LR: I think it will be of some concern yes. I get the impression that Janne Andersson works a lot on defensive discipline but is less accomplished at working on creative play. When Sweden are forced to attack from what in Spain they call a 'static' situation (ie: when it's not a break, the game isn't stretched, and they need to build up patiently) they're very poor. There isn't a central midfielder in the team who can pick a pass, and Forsberg – by far their best creative player as you know – is much more useful on the break than he is in a more gradual build up. That'll be an issue I think, as will scoring goals in general when they're not in a situation of regular counter-attcking opportunities.

MB: Marcus Berg not only has the most international goals in this Sweden squad, but he is also the only player in this team that plies his trade in Asia, playing for UAE outfit Al-Ain and boasting quite the scoring record since his move last summer. How was his transfer met by Swedish supporters at the time and has it influenced people’s attitudes towards the Arabian Gulf League?

LR: I think Swedes saw it for what it is, an older player getting a big pay-day in a poor league at the end of his career. I don't think it has influenced attitudes. People are aware that his form in qualifying was more likely a purple patch than indicative of any great overwhelming quality left in his boots. I wouldn't be surprised if he struggles to score at the World Cup.

MB: Which player(s) will Sweden be looking to in particular for a strong performance against Korea?

LR: Forsberg. Korea are a decent side obviously but for someone of his standard, this is the kind of team he should really be making an impact against. If he doesn't, there'll be good cause for concern going forward in the tournament, I would think.

MB: Despite Sweden still being 38 positions higher than Korea in the FIFA rankings, fans here see this as Korea’s best opportunity to claim three points, whereas I would imagine Sweden supporters may also think the same. How do you see this opening clash playing out?

LR: I don't think this will be a pretty game. For the reasons I mentioned above. Sweden much prefer underdog situations because of what that generally means in their play- they can sit back and look for gaps to break. This game will be more evenly poised and I don't think that suits them. I don't think it will suit either team actually. I reckon it could be painful watching.

Lee’s Predicted Score: South Korea 1-1 Sweden

Lee asks, Matthew answers


Lee Roden: I think it would be interesting to find out how well-known any of Sweden's players are in Korea. Is Forsberg relatively well known or an unknown quantity? 

Matthew Binns: Forsberg is being touted as the one to watch in the media build up, but I am unsure of how aware the Korean public were of the Swedish players prior to this tournament. Given the significant coverage English Premier League football receives here, particularly Manchester United and Swansea City for the connections to Korean players past and present in Park Ji-sung and Ki Sung-yueng, defenders Victor Lindelöf and Martin Olsson may be your best bets if asking the average Korean football fan. Them, and of course, the unchosen Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

LR: Were Korean fans relieved that Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn't going? 

MB: Probably, but I think people are still well aware of the mountainous task that lies ahead. You would be hard pressed to find a Korean supporter who could honestly say they fancied their team's chances after watching the group draw last December, and Zlatan was the immediate name that came to mind when sizing up Sweden. I feel Sweden have done well without him though, and Korean fans would be wise not to berate their side too much if they are defeated by what looks a reasonably organised outfit.

LR: How do you think Korea will cope with Sweden's aerial threat? 

MB: Tactically, Korea have been switching between a 4-4-2 and a 3-5-2, with the main reasoning behind the latter being that three centre backs would fare better against two strikers. Given how unsuccessful this formation has proven though, not to mention it's unpopularity with the supporters, manager Shin Tae-yong may stick to a standard 4-4-2 and call upon on his attacking wingers to also track back in order to double up on Sweden's wide players and cut off the aerial supply into the box, especially down the left flank where Forsberg and Augustinsson could team up to cause Korea some damage.

It should also be noted that two of Korea's centre backs options Oh Ban-suk and Jeong Seung-hyun also boast heights of 189 and 188cm respectively, not to mention 197cm striker Kim Shin-wook who can also come back to help defend set pieces. None of them would be considered as regular starters admittedly, but if the manager becomes increasingly concerned with the aerial threat posed by Sweden during the match, then there are options available for him to call upon.

LR: What makes Koreans optimistic about this game as you mentioned?

MB: Any small shred of optimism is purely based on that of the three sides' rankings. Of Germany, Mexico and Sweden, Monday's opponents have the lowest. This is in addition to Mexico and Germany's record in this competition speaking for itself, with the Mexicans having progressed from the groups in the last six World Cups and the Germans being, well, the reigning champions.

In all honesty though, Korea are still underdogs for this encounter. Their warmups leading into this match have not exactly instilled confidence in their support, even though manager Shin Tae-yong is still insisting there is a plan, and even sleight of hand, at play. The side does boast a number of technically talented players going forward, meaning it might not just be as simple as marking key player Son Heung-min out of the game as this could subsequently create space for the likes of the overlooked Hwang Hee-chan, Lee Seung-woo and Lee Jae-sung to move into. These four players are very creative individuals and could ruffle a rigid defence if it would all just come together for them. This does seem like an increasingly big 'if' going by recently friendly performances though. Korea are still struggling to break through organised backlines and could come unstuck if they have a moment of lapsed concentration at the back. Based on the form of both sides coming into this, I'll cautiously opt for the draw as well.

Matthew's Predicted Score: South Korea 1-1 Sweden 

We would once again like to extend our gratitude to Lee Roden for his time and contribution to this match preview. Lee is the deputy editor at The Local Sweden and a football journalist with his work appearing in the likes of ESPN and FourFourTwo to name a few. To keep up-to-date with all Lee's insights and analysis, make sure to follow him on Twitter.

South Korea vs Sweden Watch Party



Monday's match up sees Retro Game Bar put their two allegiances to the test as they host our Sweden vs Korea Watch Party! Join us June 18th at 8:00pm, don your country's colors, and maybe play a game or four of FIFA to get ready! Click on the event page for more information.

We will also be giving away one of our RGB kits to anyone who shares our Show Your Colors photo on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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