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Preview: South Korea vs Uzbekistan


Paulo Bento’s final preparation before he embarks on his inaugural tournament as South Korea boss comes in the form of an Uzbekistan side who have shown glimpses of promise in recent months. Unbeaten in four of their previous five, Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium will host both sides final match before January’s Asian Cup. In what could be a pre-cursor to another high-intensity tournament encounter following a 4-3 Korean win at the Asian Games, Bento will hope to continue an impressive start to his regime.
(Image via The Advertiser)

Last Time Out

Korea suffered last heartache in Brisbane on Saturday night as Matty Luongo reacted first to tap home a 94th minute equaliser. Hwang Ui-jo gave the visitors the lead when he took advantage of the space afforded to him by Kim Min-jae's through ball.

Hector Cuper’s confidence failed to receive a significant boost on Thursday night as his Uzbekistan side clung to a goalless draw against Lebanon in Poland. Giving an opportunity for fringe players to shine, an overzealous Davronbek Khashimov saw red in a match dominated by the Cedars who finished second behind Korea in qualifying for Russia 2018. An impressive October international break culminated in Marat Bikmaev’s sublime 25-yard chip seal a comfortable 2-0 victory over Qatar. Enjoying a renaissance of late, Bikmaev’s fine finish sparked a run of four goals in six games for both club and country.

The Adversary

Coming into a Tashkent dressing room with an average age of over 26, former Egypt boss Hector Cuper has stamped a youthful and positive style on the Uzbekistan national team. Allowing enthusiastic, talented players a chance to shine and experience big game atmospheres should prepare them well for the Asian Cup 2019. Following failure at Russia 2018, the Uzbekistan Football Association has also seen big political changes with a more settled system behind the scenes benefiting those on the pitch. It appears that new coaching staff are gelling well with the squad with an upturn in results and consecutive clean sheets a welcome change. Placed alongside Japan, Oman and Turkmenistan in Group F, Cuper’s side are in full flow as far as preparations go.

Odil Akhmedov is the first player on the lips of Uzbekistan fans. By no means a prolific goal scorer despite bagging two in his last four appearances, 30-year-old Akhmedov comes fresh from an incredible title-winning season at Shanghai SIPG and will be the talisman of the piece for the White Wolves. Sardor Rashidov might be trusted up front again while big things are expected of young striker Zabikhillo Urinboyev who rattled in five goals in five goals at the Asian Games this summer. Veteran Bikmaev who stunned South Korea in Seoul with an opening goal during World Cup Qualification in 2016 popped up with a brace against North Korea last month to put himself in contention for a start while Cuper will hope Akramion Komilov will keep things tight at the back.

Who To Watch

While golden oldie Bikmaev has been a shining light for Lokomotiv Tashkent in recent weeks he is unlikely to get little change out of Korean centre-back Kim Min-jae. Jeonbuk’s number three has been commonplace in a defence shipping just 29 goals this term and with Jang Hyun-soo out of the picture such friendly matches provide the 22-year-old with a shot at cementing his place in the starting 11. While Lee Yong has perhaps been the most consistent performer in Jeonbuk’s backline this season, Kim Min-jae will want to show Bento that he can strike a reliable partnership with Kim Young-gwon.

Since making his national team debut little over a year ago in a goalless draw against Iran, Kim Min-jae has contributed towards four clean sheets from seven starts while playing his part in impressive wins against Uruguay and Costa Rica. An absence of core players may allow Bento to focus his attention on those such as Kim and Hwang Ui-jo who he will have seen in medal-winning action at the Asian Games.

Prediction

With Korea without those who are usually responsible for and capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck, neutrals heading to Lang Park on Tuesday should not expect a thriller of the proportions of August’s clash. In what is sure to be a subdued atmosphere both managers will fine-tune their tactical plans prior to a tournament they are capable of winning, which could be the ingredients for a tight encounter. While Korea looked defensively unsure against Panama the other month both they and Uzbekistan have been sound on the whole and more of the same should be expected.

Predicted Score: South Korea 0-0 Uzbekistan

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