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Preview: South Korea vs Philippines

AFC Asian Cup 2019 Preview: South Korea vs Philippines

South Korea open their 2019 Asian Cup campaign with a potential banana skin in the form of Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Philippines. Unbeaten since winning their last competitive fixture, a 2-0 World Cup win over Germany, new boss Paulo Bento will want his side to show their trophy-winning credentials from the off. A first competitive meeting since a 5-0 demolition against the Azkals in 1978’s rendition of the Asian Cup, Bento is expected to field a full-flung attacking line-up.

Last Time Out

South Korea 0-0 Saudi Arabia
The Taeguk Warriors stretched their run of unbeaten games to eight and claimed a second consecutive clean sheet in a goalless friendly draw against Saudi Arabia in Abu Dhabi. Hwang Hee-chan missed a presentable opportunity down the right early on before Hwang Ui-jo squandered his side-footed effort from six yards on the half-hour mark. Bento’s side best chance of a confidence-boosting victory came on 80 minutes as Saudi keeper Mohammed Al Owais chopped down Ki Sung-yeung in the box. Dusting himself down, the Newcastle United midfielder dragged his penalty wide of the left-hand post before the relieved keeper picked up a comical booking for goading the referee in mockery of his decision to award the spot kick.

Highlights: here

Philippines 2-4 Vietnam
A rematch of their narrow Suzuki Cup semi-final defeat to eventual champions Vietnam, Eriksson saw his side crash to a 4-2 defeat in a Doha warm-up match. A third consecutive defeat to their jubilant opposition, the Philippines’ form has dipped since a run of six wins in nine stretching from March to November. Trailing by two goals, the Azkals showed spirit to penetrate a solid Vietnamese back-line with Patrick Reichelt scoring one of the goals. Fellow German-born midfielder John-Patrick Strauss impressed at the Suzuki Cup and is expected to be given a further chance to shine in the group stages.

Previous Meetings

With both countries more accustomed to meeting on the Basketball court, this represents a first competitive match between the two teams in just over 40 years. With Korea unbeaten and winning six of eight contests, largely in the seventies, there is not much joy in reading the history books for the Azkals. The two nations have met in competitions as diverse as the Jakarta Trophy, Kings Cup and Merdeka Tournament over the past few decades.

Team News

In possibly the most publicized team news of the entire tournament, Bento will be without Tottenham striker Son Heung-min on Monday with the in-form marksman scoring and claiming two assists inside an hour in the English FA Cup third round on Friday night. Expected to start for Spurs against Chelsea in the League Cup semi-final in midweek, Son will join his teammates in the UAE for Korea’s final group game against China. Bento handed opportunities for youngsters Kim Min-jae and Hwang In-beom to impress against Saudi Arabia, however, the latter was replaced by former Jeonbuk midfielder Lee Jae-sung at the interval. Playing with wing-backs in a 3-4-2-1 formation, the Portuguese boss has a selection headache on the left should he stick with the same system. Opting for Hwang Hee-chan last time out, a more orthodox selection of Hong Chul could be expected with the Philippines showing they are lively on the counter at the Suzuki Cup.

Michael Falkesgaard of Bangkok United is expected to fill in for the absent Cardiff City keeper Neil Etheridge. Enjoying an impressive season in the Bluebirds’ net, Etheridge was set to feature solely for this game but was later withdrawn from contention. With just two home-grown players featuring, brothers Phil and James Younghusband are perhaps the most recognisable names for an international audience to spot in the Azkals line-up. The former played has been deployed as a sole striker of late for Sven’s side in a 4-5-1 formation likely to be favoured against stronger opposition. The experienced Alvaro Silva, formerly of Daejeon Citizen, will be key in central defence should the Philippines have aspirations of qualification from Group C.

Predicted Line-ups

The Adversary

Fans of the Azkals will hope former-England boss Eriksson’s appointment can bring some stability to their national side. Off the back of five managers in the past two years, including the farcical tenure of Terry Butcher, the Philippines had pulled some good form together before a recent slump consisting of no win in five. Conceding in five of their last six, they will hope former K-League stalwart Alvaro Silva can command his defensive backline.

Working together at Leicester City, Sven’s right-hand man Scott Cooper has been instrumental behind the scenes of this Philippines outfit and is acknowledged by his more illustrious colleague Eriksson as having pulled this squad together.

Speaking to The Asian Game podcast, new head coach Eriksson said: “Korea is the big favourite from our group, then China and I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan. In a way, it’s a battle for second place. Korea should be the best team with the players they have.”

Possessing one of the more experienced coaching teams among the minnows at this years’ tournament could be that extra push the Azkals need if they are to push China and Kyrgyzstan for qualification to the knockout stage. Two-footed 30-year-old Patrick Reichelt could also possess some of that big-game experience needed should they be able to hold their nerve against more-fancied opposition.

Who to Watch

Patrick Strauss impressed at the Suzuki Cup and will want to cement his place in midfield for future tournaments. James Younghusband, while restricted to being an impact sub in recent fixtures, has been involved in important late goals coming off the bench. Much attention will be placed upon deputy keeper Falkesgaard who has a difficult task coming in for the Philippines star-man Etheridge.

Hwang Ui-jo demonstrated how prolific he can be in tournament football bagging nine at last summer’s Asian Games. Gamba Osaka’s front man has 12 in his last 14 appearances for the national team and will be thirsty for goals against weaker opposition if he is looking to claim another golden boot accolade. Should Korea take a comfortable early lead, Bento will surely introduce some of the younger talent at his disposal. Busan IPark’s Kim Moon-hwan’s pace could be a threat down the right against tiring defences, while Hwang In-beom enters the tournament off the back of a stellar season with Daejeon Citizen. If Korea find themselves up against a stubborn Philippines wall, he could be the man with the ingenuity to break the lines and open them up.


After a cagey opening 20 minutes Korea will take a comfortable lead into the break as the Philippines’ energy levels begin to drop. Bento’s introduction of fresh legs eager to impress could cause real problems for the Azkals defence, who may be powerless to resist an all-out-attacking outfit. Korea showed in qualification for this tournament that they are merciless against weaker opposition. However, being the first game of the group stage, I expect the Philippines to still have plenty of fight in their legs to put up a good display and keep the score down.

Predicted Score: South Korea 3-0 Philippines

Interview: Philippines Defender Alvaro Silva

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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