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Preview: South Korea vs Qatar

Korea labored past a stubborn Bahrain side in the Rashid Stadium thanks to Kim Jin Su’s extra time header. Requiring an extra 30 minutes to dispose of Miroslav Soukup’s side and amid rumours of a backroom fallout in the physio department, it’s a slightly battle-weary side that enter the quarter finals.

Last Time Out

Paulo Bento’s side did little to ease worries among Korean pundits that they are incapable of putting sides to bed with their 2-1 victory over Bahrain on Tuesday. Hwang Hee-chan passed into an open goal just before half time in front of nearly 8000 in Dubai but just four shots on target in 120 minutes demonstrates how Korea ran out of ideas in the final third.

Edging towards the lottery of penalties, Bento turned to starlet Lee Seung-woo and Augsburg’s Ji Dong-won following Mohamed Al Romaihi’s leveler on 77 minutes. With Hong Chul scrambling back to clear off the line, the ball fell nicely to Al Romaihi who couldn’t miss from six yards out. There was slight controversy to the goal, with Bahrain taking advantage of a Korean man down injured on the wing.

Jubilant scenes were sparked in injury time of the first half of injury time as both Jeonbuk Hyundai full backs combined with Lee Yong’s pinpoint cross finding Kim Jin-su at the back post for the latter to head home. While quality crosses were not consistent from out wide, Lee Yong was involved in both goals and seems to have cemented his place back in the starting line-up after missing the China game through suspension.
Qatar edged past Iraq in their round of 16 tie in a tight affair. Ultimately one moment of extraordinary quality was the difference between the two sides, with Bassam Al Rawy’s dipping 25-yard free kick a contender for goal of the tournament. Hitting the crossbar early on, left back Abdelkarim Hassan could have made it a more comfortable night for the Maroons but they limited a previously impressive Iraq side to just three shots on target and stood firm.

Previous Meetings

Meeting in qualification for Russia 2018, neutrals will be hoping this quarter-final clash can provide another third consecutive five-goal thriller. Hassan Al Heidos, deployed as part of an attacking three in midfield by boss Felix Sanchez, bagged a brace in the last meeting in June 2017, while Korea were victorious in the return fixture in Suwon thanks as a quick-fire double from Ji Dong-won and Son Heung-min saw the hosts come from behind to win 3-2. The pairs last Asian Cup fixture also finished in a 3-2 win for the Taeguk Warriors, as Chung Hae-won’s brace helped defeat hosts Qatar in the 1988 incumbent of the trophy. Korea progressed to eventually lose the final to Saudi Arabia on penalties that year, with former Jeonbuk boss Cho Yoon-hwan missing a decisive penalty.

Team News

-      Ki Sung-yeung absent for the remainder of the tournament with three-week injury layoff. He’s returned to Newcastle.
-      No cautions in the last two means no suspensions. Jung Woo-young and Kim Jin-su are both on one yellow card each.
-      Lee Jae-sung is expected to miss out once more with a muscle tear in his right foot. He could be back in contention for a potential semi-final appearance.
-      Abdelkarim Hassan and Assim Madibo both picked up their second bookings of the tournament against Iraq.

The Opposition

Bassam Al Rawy’s sublime free-kick stole the show from Qatar’s round of 16 victory. Born in Iraq, the midfielder’s father also played for his country of birth and those of a near 15,000 crowd wearing maroon have extra reason to cheer his national allegiance. Iraqi fans however, were far from pleased and chanted their disapproval towards the youngster.

Almoez Ali looks set to pick up the golden boot for this year’s tournament. Three goals ahead of the chasing pack, the Al Duhail striker will certainly have put himself in the shop window at just 22-years-old. Hunting down Ali Daei’s infamous target of eight goals for Iran in 1996, Ali looks set to lead the line once more for Spaniard Sanchez. Success so far has been built on a solid defensive foundation, with Qatar allowing their opponents the fewest shots on target of any team in the group stages.

Terrific friendly performances including victories over Ecuador and Switzerland in recent months seem to have been a catalyst for a much-improved performance than 2015, where Qatar lost all three group games in Australia scoring just two goals. Their first quarter final appearance since injury time heartbreak saw them crash out 3-2 to 10-man Japan in 2011, Felix Sanchez’s side will be full of confidence winning all four games without conceding so far.

Prediction - South Korea 1-0 Qatar (AET)

These quarter finals will be the first Asian international fixtures at this level with VAR, meaning that hopefully there'll be no controversial exit for either side. Legendary referee Pierluigi Collina has even been invited to the UAE to ensure the smooth running of the technological assistance.

Qatar may adopt a slightly different tactic amid arguably their toughest test. With a semi-final berth at stake a cagey encounter is to be expected. Both sides defences have rarely been breached so far this tournament, while Korea failed to make possession pay against other teams they are expected to beat. This might not be one for the neutrals and extra time could be needed once more should Bento's side progress.





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