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Preview: South Korea October Friendlies

South Korea’s new head coach Paulo Bento got off to a decent start with a win over Costa Rica and a draw against Chile. After having some time to evaluate the players he has, Bento has made a few changes for the matches against Uruguay and Panama. Steve Price takes a look at what to expect from these games.
(image via dispatch.co.kr)

The core of Paulo Bento’s squad is the same as it was for the friendly matches against Costa Rica and Chile, but with goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo returning to the squad after recovering from a knee injury. Bento has chosen quite a few young players, including several players from the Asian Games winning squad, perhaps with the view of building a team for Qatar 2022 as well as the upcoming Asian Cup. He told Yonhap News Agency that his goal from these friendly matches is to spot shortcomings and find ways to improve the team, and that there are more things to fix in attack than there are in defense.

The big surprise in Bento’s squad list is a recall of Suk Hyun-jun, who takes Ji Dong-won’s spot in the team. Suk is one of the few South Koreans to currently play in a top league in Europe, but has been in the international wilderness for the best part of two years. He scored six times in Ligue 1 last season but is yet to find the back of the net this campaign.
There is no spot in the side for Ju Sejong, who could find himself unable to play professional football next season as his team, Asan Mugunghwa, is being disbanded. Hopefully some solution to the Asan situation can be found before then.
Gyeongnam FC have without a doubt been the stars of the K League this season, exceeding even the most optimistic Gyeongnam fans’ predictions to climb as high as second in the league. Gyeongnam’s defender Park Ji-soo has seen his role in Gyeongnam’s rise rewarded with a first national team call up.

Former Austria Vienna midfielder Lee Jin-hyun is the latest of South Korea’s victorious Asian Games team to be rewarded with a call up to the senior side. He has had nine starts in a resurgent Pohang Steelers side after leaving Austria in the summer. 
Lee Chung-yong’s move to the 2. Bundesliga hasn’t been enough to earn him a recall to the national team, Ki Seung-yong’s lack of game time for Newcastle United must also be a worry for Paulo Bento. Son Heung-min has been selected for this round of fixtures, but will be absent in November and for the start of the 2019 Asian Games. 

South Korea Squad

Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Cho Hyun-woo (Daegu FC) 

Defenders: Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Jung Seung-hyun (Kashima Antlers), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo), Kim Min-jae (Jeonbuk Hyundai), Lee Yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai), Park Ji-soo (Gyeongnam FC), Kim Moon-hwan (Busan IPark), Hong Chul (Suwon Bluewings), Park Joo-ho (Ulsan Hyundai)

Midfielders: Hwang In-beom (Daejeon Citizen), Ki Sung-yeung (Newcastle United), Jung Woo-young (Al-Sadd), Koo Ja-cheol (FC Augsburg), Nam Tae-hee (Al-Duhail), Lee Jin-hyun (Pohang Steelers), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona)

Forwards: Lee Jae-sung (Holstein Kiel), Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United), Hwang Hee-chan (Hamburger SV), Suk Hyun-jun (Stade de Reims), Hwang Ui-jo (Gamba Osaka)

Last Time Out: Costa Rica and Chile

Two clean sheets and an unbeaten start for Paulo Bento in September. His first game in charge of the national team was a relatively comfortable win over Costa Rica. Holstein Kiel’s Lee Jae-sung opened the scoring midway through the first half, pouncing on a rebound after Son Heung-min missed a penalty. Nam Tae-hee put the result beyond doubt on 78 minutes with a clever run and powerful finish into the top corner.

Bento’s next game, against Chile, was much less straightforward, and South Korea were lucky that Chile’s strikers couldn’t hit a barn door, missing several absolute sitters. That said, Korea looked okay apart from a few howlers by Kim Jin-hyeon in goal, and a misplaced backpass by Jang Hyun-soo which nearly let Chile score with the last kick of the game. South Korea failed to create any real clear-cut chances despite some exciting attacking play and a few crowd-pleasing nutmegs. In both games, South Korea looked to attack more quickly than they had under previous managers, and the general view is that Bento had already improved the side, despite having very little time to prepare for the Costa Rica and Chile games.

The Adversary: Uruguay

The big news for South Korea fans is that Uruguay’s star striker Luis Suarez is not making the trip to Seoul. Suarez was absent last time Uruguay travelled to Korea as he was suspended for the biting incident in the 2014 World Cup. He isn’t in the squad this time either. South Korea’s defenders will still have to deal with Paris Saint-Germain striker Edison Cavani who has five goals in six starts for the French champions so far this season. Fans should also keep an eye on Boca Juniors’ Nahitan Nandez, Cruziero’s Giorgian de Arrascaeta, and Arsenal's Lucas Torreira, who could all have bright careers ahead of them. Uruguay’s formidable Atletico Madrid Godin-Giminez defensive partnership has been weakened following Jose Gimenez’s withdrawal through injury.

Uruguay’s head coach Oscar Tabarez signed a new deal after the World Cup, keeping him in charge of the national team until Qatar 2022. He is a large part of why Uruguay continue to defy the odds on the international stage. Uruguay reached the World Cup quarter-finals earlier this year and beat Mexico 4-1 in September. If South Korea can come out of this match without getting beaten, it will be a very good result, even if Uruguay are without Suarez and Gimenez.

The Adversary: Panama

One of the smallest teams at the World Cup, Panama never really won over neutrals (except for ‘Anyone But Englanders’) with their constant fouling and rough-housing. They went out in the group stage with a record of three defeats, two goals scored, and eleven goals conceded. But Los Canaleros did reach the World Cup, and won’t be the walkover that some might expect. Their rough style of play will test South Korea’s players (especially Lee Seung-woo) to keep their cool, which could be a vital lesson for the team. Six players from Panama’s squad ply their trade in the USA, including San Jose Earthquakes’ Anibal Godoy and New York Red Bulls’ Michael Murillo.

South Korea play Uruguay in Seoul on Friday 12th October and Panama in Cheonnan on Tuesday 16th October.

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