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Preview: South Korea vs China

AFC Asian Cup 2019 Preview: South Korea (Republic of Korea) vs PR China
Korea recorded their second consecutive 1-0 win in UAE thanks to Kim Min-jae’s 41st-minute header against Kyrgyzstan. Paulo Bento’s men again bemoaned a lack of clinical finishing giving their fans a couple of nervy moments against spirited opponents. With progression to the knock-out stages secured, Korea’s approach to a dead rubber game against Marcelo Lippi’s China is uncertain. With Son Heung-min entering the fold, Bento has to decide whether to go full strength to try and secure a round of 16 tie against a third-placed ‘lucky loser’ or dabble with some fringe players and risk facing the runners-up from a competitive Group A featuring UAE, India, Thailand and Bahrain.

Previous meetings

Boasting a mere two wins against the Taeguk Warriors in 33 years it’s fair to say that China does not have the fondest memories of this fixture. Beating Uli Stielike’s outfit in World Cup Qualifying in March 2017 however, may give Lippi’s side some cause for optimism, as would the 2-2 draw at the EAFF Cup later that year. Their first meeting since that competition, Korea’s back line will be well aware of the talents of Yu Dabao who bagged the winner in a 1-0 victory at the Helong Stadium before equalizing late on against Shin Tae-yong’s men in Tokyo.

The two nation’s last Asian Cup meeting came at the turn of the millennium in Lebanon. Lee Dong-gook grabbed his sixth of the tournament to earn Korea a narrow 1-0 victory in the third-place play-off in front of a healthy turnout in Beirut.

South Korea Team News

Son Heung-min will be available for selection having come through Tottenham’s Premier League clash with Manchester United at Wembley on Sunday unscathed. With progression secured, there’s little need to risk such a star man in Son, while Bento can also allow Ki Sung-yeung further recovery time with the central midfielder hoping to return for the round of 16. Hellas Verona's Lee Seung-woo, who was called up to replace the injured Na Sang-ho, may make his Asian Cup debut with fringe players set to be given the opportunity to show they packed a better pair of shooting boots than those who fluffed their lines in front of goal against Kyrgyzstan.

Highlights of Korea 1-0 Kyrgyzstan here

With Lee Yong having collected bookings in each game this tournament, sought-after wing-back Kim Moon-hwan is set to deputise at right-back while Bento will also have to ponder the involvement of Kim Jin-su and Jung Woo-young, who also picked up cautions against the Philippines.

Korea’s failure to convert a barrage of clear-cut opportunities was the main frustration from their narrow victory over Kyrgyzstan with Lee Chung-young, Hwang Hee-chan and Hwang Ui-jo guilty of spurning guilt-edged opportunities. Talking to Yonhap in Al Ain, boss Bento hinted that Son may see some involvement. He said: “We have to improve our offense. We all know what Sonny is capable of…once he arrives here, we’ll figure out when he’ll get to play.” In what would be his first involvement since an October friendly with Panama, Son will look to bag his first goal for his country since netting the winner in the Asian Game group fixture against Kyrgyzstan.

View on China

Putting in an improved performance from an opener that saw them squeeze past Kyrgyzstan, China comfortably saw off Sven Goran Eriksson’s Philippines 3-0 with Wu Lei announcing himself in style, grabbing a brace to be topped off by Yu Dabao’s late header. Wu Lei’s second in particular will be up there with the goals of the tournament, twisting his body to control a perfectly executed half-volley into the roof of the net.

Highlights of China 3-0 Philippines here

Looking to garner more information on how Marcelo Lippi’s China would approach a game against well-fancied Korea, we spoke to Wild East Football’s founding editor, Cameron Wilson.

Peter Hampshire: Recent results against Korea haven’t been too bad for Marcelo Lippi. What lessons will the Italian boss have learned from his encounters with Korea in the past and how do you feel Lippi will fare against Paulo Bento’s more attacking style?

Cameron Wilson: As you know China's record against South Korea is fairly abysmal even if results the last couple of encounters were much better than the norm. I think in general Lippi's teams work better when he plays 4-3-3 or at least something similar to that with two wide midfielders pressing forwards, this reduces pressure on China's centre midfield which I think is often a bit limited. Zheng Zhi was a quality player 10 years ago but now at 38, I think he doesn't have the agility to be too mobile. Lippi's time in China as a club manager saw him at Guangzhou Evergrande, and most of the time opponents used a counter-attacking style against his club. But I think this is the style he will want to use against Korea. In this regard, Wu Lei is a quick and nippy player used to playing as a wide forward so expect to see him at the centre of China's tactical threat.

PH: In our chat in the lead up to China’s 3-0 in their last game, you said: “I think China will grab a win of some kind over the Philippines and more or less stick with a winning team after that.” Do you expect any of China’s fringe players to feature in what is essentially a dead rubber? Are there any in particular to look out for that we may not aware of?

CW: Expect maybe one or two players not normally starting to feature against Korea, perhaps Wei Shihao and Piao Cheng, but the team will be unchanged for the most part. China will be much more dangerous against Korea in a dead rubber than in a game which qualifying for the next around hinges on.

PH: How deep into the tournament can you realistically see China getting? A lot of pundits seem to be writing them off due to an ageing squad. Do you see this experience as a help or a hindrance?

CW: I don't see China getting past the quarterfinals. The team is really over the hill and there isn't enough young new talent coming through to replace older players who weren't even that good in the first place. There's no advancement in the Chinese national side at all in recent years, they did better than expected last time around in 2015 but then what happened after that? It was back to the usual poor results and under-achievement in World Cup qualifying. Chinese football in general really is not going anywhere fast in terms of advancement and I fear the Asian Cup is just going to underline this point. I hope to be proven wrong though of course!

South Korea play China at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday evening Korean Standard Time

The K League United Podcast

The K League United Podcast also sat down recently to assess Korea's first two group matches in addition to speaking to former Socceroo and Jeonnam Dragons player turned pundit Robert Cornthwaite. You can listen to the most recent episode below, or search for "The K League United Podcast" on all good podcasting apps.

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