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Preview: South Korea vs Bolivia

South Korea look to rebuild after their disappointing Asian Cup. Paulo Bento has selected a young squad as he begins preparations for the 2022 World Cup qualification campaign. To test out his new-look squad, Korea will play friendly matches against Bolivia and Colombia. Korea national team columnist Steve Price talks to South American football expert Peter Galindo ahead of Korea's match against Bolivia.

Previous Meetings

Korea last played Bolivia in a warm-up match in Austria ahead of the 2018 World Cup. Bolivia played that match with a weakened side as most of their best players were involved in the country’s domestic league title decider, but despite Korea dominating possession, they couldn’t find a way through the Bolivian defense. The match finished 0-0 and was part of a bad run which included six defeats in eight games for Shin Tae-yong’s side.

South Korean Team News

Hwang Hee-chan is missing through injury while Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol have retired from international football following Korea’s Asian Cup exit. Paulo Bento has named several new faces including FC Liefering’s Kim Jung-min, Girona’s Paik Seung-ho and Valencia’s Lee Kang-in in his new look Korean side.

South Korea Squad

GK: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe), Cho Hyeon-woo (Daegu), Gu Sungyun (Consodole Sapporo)

DF: Kim Young-gwon (Gamba Osaka), Kim Min-jae (Beijing Guoan), Jung Seung-hyun (Kashima Antlers), Park Ji-soo (Guangzhou Evergrande), Kwon Kyung-won (Tianjin Tianhai), Hong Chul (Suwon Bluewings),Kim Jin-su (Jeonbuk Motors), Kim Moon-hwan (Busan I-Park), Choi Chul-soon (Jeonbuk Motors)

MF: Jung Woo-young (Al Sadd), Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa), Hwang In-beom (Vancouver Whitecaps), Lee Jin-hyun (Pohang Steelers), Kim Jung-min (Liefering), Paik Seung-ho (Girona), Lee Jae-sung (Holstein Kiel), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona), Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur), Kwon Chang-hoon (Dijon), Lee Chung-yong (VFL Bochum), Lee Kang-in (Valencia), Na Sang-ho (FC Tokyo)

FW: Ji Dong-won (Augsburg), Hwang Ui-jo (Gamba Osaka)

[LISTEN: The K League United Podcast on the last South Korean squad

Writers’ Chat

To find out a bit more about Bolivia, Steve Price talked to South American football expert Peter Galindo.

Steve Asks, Peter Answers

Steve Price: What style and formation do the Bolivia national team normally play? Will they be defensive or play for the win?

Peter Galindo: Bolivia are often very defensive outside of La Paz, but they’ve recently shifted to a 4-3-3 to utilize their talented young wingers. If their pre-World Cup friendly against South Korea is any indication, expect Bolivia to be very rigid and to launch counter-attacks via the flanks.

SP: I understand Bolivia have a new head coach. Where did his predecessor go wrong, and what needs to be done to turn around Bolivia’s poor run of form?

PG: Technically yes, although Eduardo Villegas was the interim coach back in 2010. There wasn’t anything previous coaches did poorly, but Villegas recently managed Oriente Petrolero, where a lot of the younger Bolivian players have come through. The key, as usual, is enabling this side to play a more open style outside of the altitude of La Paz. They have the players to do it. We’ll see if Villegas releases the shackles of sorts.

SP: Which players should we look out for in the Bolivian side? Who is the star player and do they have any up-and-coming talents who will be big names in a few years?

PG: This is a squad entirely composed of players who play in the Bolivian top flight, and many are U-23 players. One name that could make an impact is 19-year-old Ramiro Vaca, who plays for The Strongest. He can play up front or as a No. 10 and scored in Bolivia’s last friendly against Nicaragua.

SP: How far can Bolivia go in this year’s Copa America?

PG: Bolivia could be a spoiler at Copa América but it’s difficult to see them getting out of the group, especially with such a young group of players who haven’t played a lot together.

Peter Asks, Steve Answers

Peter Galindo: After the Asian Cup, there were some concerns on social media about Paulo Bento, particularly his style of play. Are those fair criticisms? 

Steve Price: A lot of the criticism comes from the belief that Korea should be winning the Asian Cup and beating smaller teams comfortably, but despite being one of Asia’s top teams, they haven’t won this competition for decades, which shows what a difficult task it is.

When it comes to style of play, Korea’s performances in the two knockout games certainly deserve criticism. Korea were solid at the back all tournament and were undone by a great shot that came somewhat against the run of play, but they didn’t create enough chances or really get behind the defense enough.

If you look at Bento’s reign as a whole, Korea have looked okay in attack and have got the ball forward quite quickly. I’d imagine we’ll see some changes to the front four after the lack of incisiveness in the Asian Cup, but Bento will be without the injured Nam Tae-hee who was crucial in making Korea’s attack more fluid in the early matches under him and was sorely missed at the Asian Cup. Bento tried Koo Ja-cheol, Son Heung-min and Hwang In-beom in Nam Tae-hee’s position and the inability to fill this position effectively was a major reason behind Korea’s lacklustre attacking threat at the Asian Cup. One thing to watch closely is who Bento plays in that central attacking midfield role.

Bento has plenty of attacking talent at his disposal with Kwon Chang-hoon and Lee Jae-sung returning to fitness but will have to improve Korea’s attacking performances if he wants to get fans back on his side.

PG: What’s the one thing Korean fans want to see from their team in these friendlies?

SP: Some exciting attacking play, especially after the relative lack of goals at the Asian Cup, and the poor attacking performances against Bahrain and Qatar in particular. They’ll also be curious to see how Bento integrates the young players into his squad. He did this well at Sporting CP and Portugal, and has shown that he wants to work with younger players. Now fans will be expecting to see plenty of Lee Seung-woo, Lee Kang-in who are seen as Korea’s up-and-coming attacking talents.

PG: Hwang In-beom has started well in MLS and has knocked on the door of cracking South Korea’s XI permanently. Do you foresee that happening sooner rather than later?

SP: Yeah, especially with Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol retiring from international football. It seems like Bento is a big fan of Hwang In-beom too, so if he keeps up his current form, he will be a key player for South Korea over this World Cup cycle. He was given a more attacking role against Qatar, but could be Ki’s successor as the deep-lying playmaker of the team depending on how his career progresses.

PG: Son aside, who will be South Korea’s main attacking threat?

SP: I’m excited to see Kwon Chang-hoon back from injury. Korea could’ve done with him at the World Cup and Asian Cup. Lee Jae-sung is also a top player to look out for (and missed most of the Asian Cup). Hwang Ui-jo was the KFA player of the year for 2018, but didn’t have the best Asian Cup so I’ll be watching how he does over the two friendlies, especially as he is one of the only two strikers listed in the squad. He plays in Japan so there’s a bit of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation with him as most fans can only judge him by his national team performances. Bento has a lot of faith in him, but if he under performs then I’m sure some fans will start putting names forward for who they think should take his spot.

South Korea play Bolivia at 8 p.m. Friday, March 22 in Ulsan. South Korea play Colombia at 8 p.m. Tuesday March 26th in Seoul.

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