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Preview: South Korea vs Saudi Arabia

Preview: South Korea vs Saudi Arabia
South Korea's final warm-up match before the 2019 AFC Asian Cup officially gets underway will be against three-times winners Saudi Arabia in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. The Taeguk Warriors head into the tournament on an unbeaten run of six matches under new manager Paulo Bento with three wins and three draws, seven since the dramatic 2-0 win over Germany in the World Cup. Ahead of Tuesday's fixture, Editor Paul Neat spoke with Asian Football Blogger Martin Lowe to get the lowdown on The Green Falcons.
(image via Zimbio)

Overview

via Soccerway


Last Time Out

Uzbekistan 0-4 South Korea

After a 1-1 draw with the Socceroos in Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium a few days prior, the Taeguk Warriors put Uzbekistan to the sword with a convincing 4-0 win at the end of November 2018. Determined to get back to winning ways after two consecutive draws, Paulo Bento's team were soon in front thanks to a ninth-minute Nam Taehee strike.

The Al-Duhail attacking midfielder expertly sent home a half-volley after latching on to the end of full-back Lee Yong's deep cross from the right. Fifteen minutes later and Korea were two goals to the good, this time through Hwang Uijo. The Gamba Osaka forward found the roof of the net emphatically from point blank range after pouncing upon a loose ball following Ju Sejong's corner form the left.

In the second period, substitute Moon Seonmin added a third, finding the bottom corner from 18 yards out after Uzbekistan had failed to clear Ju Sejong's corner on 70 minutes. The victory was well and truly sealed eight minutes from time through Suk Hyunjun. The Stade de Reims forward, who found the net in the red of Korea for the first time in just over two years, steered home from close range after some neat link up play with Na Sangho and Lee Jinhyun.

Highlights: here

Jordan 1-1 Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's last outing was a 1-1 stalemate with fellow AFC Asian Cup participants, Jordan. After a goal-less first 45, Fahad Al Muwallad broke the deadlock just shy of the hour mark -  Hattan Babhir credited with he assist. However, Saudi Arabia's lead didn't last too long as the hosts restored parity just 11 minutes after falling behind, second-half substitute Ahmed Samir with his fourth goal at international level.

The result extended Saudi Arabia's run to just one defeat in six after a treacherous run of five straight losses that begin just prior to the 2018 World Cup Russia and into the first two group games.

Previous Meetings

South Korea and Saudi Arabia have met just six times before, the most recent being a friendly in Australia prior to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. On that January evening in Parramatta, New South Wales, Korea ran out 2-0 winners thanks to an own goal from defender Osama Hawsawi in the 67th minute before Lee Jeonghyeop doubled Korea's advantage in time added on at the end of the second half, Nam Taehee with the assist.

Prior to which, the two teams played out two draws, a 0-0 draw in Seoul in a World Cup Qualifier in June 2009 as well as a 1-1 draw in the AFC Asian Cup in Jakarta in 2007. Korea's last defeat to Saudi Arabia was back in 2005, a World Cup qualifying match at Seoul World Cup Stadium - a Mohammed Al Anbar strike in the fourth minute separating the two teams.

Overall, these two teams are evenly matched as, from the six previous meetings Korea have two wins, Saudi Arabia have two and two stalemates.

Team News

Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heungmin is not expected to arrive in the UAE until Korea take on China PR in the final group game and so the likes of Lee Chungyong, Hwang Heechan, and even Na Sangho will be looking for an opportunity to shine. In midfield, the absence of Nam Taehee through injury may pave the way for Daejeon Citizen's Hwang Inbeom to occupy the number 10 role behind the main striker.

The 22 year-old missed Citizen's last two matches of the campaign with a slight knee injury picked up in international duty in November but is now back in full training and expected to feature against Saudi Arabia. Elsewhere, Asan Mugunghwa midfielder Ju Sejong is a doubt after picking up an injury during the team's winter training camp in Ulsan.

Predicted Lineup


The Adversary

We’re reaching the defining point of Juan Antonio Pizzi’s time in charge of Saudi Arabia. After a mixed World Cup campaign in Russia, the Spanish coach’s stylistic approach simply must start reaping the rewards soon. As the Green Falcons fine tune ahead of the Asian Cup, a solitary win over meagre opposition since the summer leaves many wondering if it’s a task too difficult to achieve.

The new Saudi ideology is that of quick, possession based football. Build up play initiated from defence, reminiscent of Barcelona’s tiki-taka ideals. The obvious problem being that Saudi Arabia aren’t Barcelona, demonstrated in their World Cup opening 5-0 humiliation to hosts Russia over the summer.

Pizzi stresses complete control, focus and calmness in possession, running the rule over vast waves of players in search of that perfect balance that has yet to materialise. While in Russia, they could realistically claim inferiority (the whole squad still play within the Saudi Pro League) in January, no such excuse will wash.

The noticeable change since Russia has seen a watering down of the old guard. Captain Osama Hawsawi and his understudy Taisir Al-Jassim have retired, while the likes of Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, top scorer across the whole of World Cup qualification and Haroune Camara, the 20-year-old starlet striker, have been axed for failing to fit in with Pizzi’s nuanced requirements.

The coach’s fine particulars in attack looks to be his final stumbling block. Having selected only one natural striker (an uncapped one at that) for their Asian Cup squad, the subplot of who’ll take up the lone front man role, will undoubtedly be under the microscope against Korea.

How they perform against the quality of opposition such as South Korea will also provide a gauge of where expectations should be set at. As against any level opposition (they even tried it against Brazil), Saudi Arabia will attempt to dominate possession, keep their play narrow, and regularly tuck in their attacking outlets.

Korea’s energy in attack can provide a real threat to a Saudi defence that continues to look tentative with the ball at feet, while a Taegurk Warrior defence’s flexibility will be tested by a likely 460-striker-less formation, Pizzi seems to be gravitating to of late. It promises to be an intriguing battle of tactical shape and ideas, yet without a successful route to goal, Pizzi could be in for a rocky spell ahead.
by Martin Lowe

Predicted Lineup


Who To Watch

Salman Al-Faraj has become the unequivocal success story of Juan Antonio Pizzi’s short reign. From an often critiqued, languid centre midfielder, to one of the most cultured, creative hubs in West Asia, Al-Faraj symbolises what the squad aims to achieve in possession.

Starring in Russia alongside the more industrious Abdullah Otayf, Al-Faraj often displays a man without a care in the world. While lacking bite or an attacking instinct, the Al-Hilal midfielder offers everything in between; the ability to change the pace of transition, manoeuvre his marker and to deal effortlessly with the high press.
by Martin Lowe

Prediction

Both teams will be looking for some momentum to take into the tournament proper and, likewise, will want to preserve their recent form. Whilst Paulo Bento will have a clear idea on the system he will play having set the Taeguk Warriors up in a 4-2-3-1 for the vast majority of the six games he has been in charge, there are still individual places to be won - particularly at centre back, on the left flank and upfront. A score draw might just be the most likely outcome.

South Korea 1-1 Saudi Arabia.

For a full preview of all the teams involved in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, head over to Plastic Pitch where Martin has a detailed lowdown of what to expect come January.

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