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Does Bento Have the Formula for Korea's Success?

South Korea head into the Asian Cup on a seven-match unbeaten run under new head coach Paulo Bento, the best mark for a new manager in the national team's history.  They are slated as one of the favorites to win, but have not lifted the trophy since back to back titles in 1956 and 1960, the first two instalments of the continental competition.  Bento has brought a new approach, and with it, opportunities for playing time to be spread throughout the squad.  KLU's Branko Belan profiles the Portuguese boss ahead of Korea's first encounter against the Philippines on January 7th.
(Image via The Straits Times

When Paulo Bento was appointed in August to succeed Shin Tae-yong following a subpar performance at the World Cup in Russia, some could have felt that Korea would stick to a defensive approach in their tactics, but the results thus far have proven otherwise.  Korea have yet to lose under the Portuguese strategist, producing three wins and four draws since he took charge near the end of last summer.

According to a report from Reuters upon signing a four year deal to lead the Taeguk Warriors, he felt part of his role was to oversee the emergence of a new generation of Korean players.  The arrival of Hwang In-beom into the senior ranks is a perfect example of this new trend.  According to Hwang himself, he stressed how Bento has made him a better player.

"Since he was a midfielder in the past, Bento tells me what to do in attacking or defending situations.  I'm getting a lot of help.  He is a really good coach," Hwang concluded.

Bento has opted for a more aggressive style of play, with an emphasis on running.  The difference in play over the past four months has been noticeable.  Their November trip to Australia produced fruitful results, drawing 1-1 with the Socceroos, and then lashing Uzbekistan by a final of 4-0, a match in which four different players ended up on the score sheet.

Their final test of 2018 saw them draw 0-0 with Saudi Arabia, also considered one of the favorites to take home the title in the UAE.  Korea was slightly outplayed and had to rely on a couple of saves from Kim Seung-gyu in the second half to preserve a clean sheet.  It was, however, a good chance for Bento to have a closer look at the options he will have at his disposal up and down the lineup once the tournament comes round.

As a player, Bento's career began with Futebol Benfica, after which he made stops at Estrela Amadora, Vitoria Guimaraes, and Benfica, but the best years of his career were spent at Real Oviedo in Spain, where he stayed for four years, before returning home to finish his playing days with Sporting Lisbon, which would also offer him his first senior coaching position one year after his retirement in 2004.  His international career spanned a decade and saw him appear for his country at EURO 2000 and at the 2002 World Cup.

Always known as a hard-nosed player with a penchant for tackling, he is now in the process of transforming Korean football into something it has not been for a very long time - a competitive outfit with a winning mentality.  Never before has Korea had as much talent as it does today.  There is a depth in this team which could serve as a catalyst for a successful year ahead, and Bento seems the perfect fit to make it work.

His South Korea appointment is his second time in charge of a national side, as he also managed his country from 2010 to 2014, leading Portugal to the semi-finals at EURO 2012, but did not fare as well two years later at the World Cup in Brazil, as his side exited following the group stage.

He is optimistic about the future of Korean football.

"I think we're going in the right direction," Bento said following their stint down under last November, according to a report in the Straits Times.

"We still have room for improvement, but I believe we're on the right path,.  I want to make sure all the players understand where the national team is trying to go," he added.

It seems there are no limits to Bento's aspirations of success with the national team.  Winning the elusive Asian Cup would be a great start in his quest to become potentially the greatest manager in the football team's history.  The last time Korea was a major factor in international football, they were co-hosts of the World Cup all the way back in 2002.  With the current group, it seems the time is right to write another storied chapter into the book.

Bento's charges kick off their campaign against first-time finalists the Philippines on January 7th, and are joined in Group C by China, and Kyrgyzstan, who will also be making their maiden Asian Cup appearance in the United Arab Emirates.

The K League United Podcast

Ahead of Korea's Asian Cup campaign, the latest K League United Podcast saw site columnists Matthew Binns, Steve Price and Peter Hampshire sit down to preview the entire Korea squad plus the manager himself. They also assessed the side's strengths and weaknesses in addition to how they think the team will fare in the competition. You can listen in the player below, or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Google Podcasts or Stitcher.

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