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2019 Under-20 World Cup Preview: South Korea vs Portugal

South Korea open their Under-20 World Cup campaign on Saturday with a match against Portugal. On paper, Portugal are one of the pre-tournament favourites, but Korea’s side looks stronger than it did two years ago when the Taeguk Warriors managed to get through the group stage, so don’t write them off just yet. K League United’s Korean National Team correspondent Steve Price previews Korea’s opening match of the U-20 World Cup.
(image via Naver.com)


South Korea go into the tournament on the back of friendly wins against Ecuador and New Zealand. Apart from that, there’s not much to go on in terms of previous form. England won the Under-20 World Cup two years ago in South Korea, and didn’t even manage to qualify for the 2019 tournament, so South Korea's win over Argentina and loss against Portugal in 2017 are no predictors of how they'll fare this time out. 


Last Time Out

Korea beat New Zealand on penalty kicks in their first friendly on May 12th after drawing 1-1 in the match. FC Seoul’s Cho Young-wook got the goal in that match. Valencia’s Lee Kang-in got the only goal of the game 15 minutes from time in Korea’s 1-0 win over Ecuador on May 17th. Ecuador qualified for the Under-20 World Cup by winning the South American Under-20 Championship earlier this year (Argentina finished second) so Korea’s friendly win over Ecuador could suggest that this Korean Under-20 side is actually pretty good.


Group F Preview

On paper, Korea’s group is tough. Their opponents Portugal and Argentina have the second and third most valuable sides of the tournament according to transfermarkt, and contain players that have already played several seasons of top-level football. Portugal qualified for the tournament by winning the Under-19 European Championships last year, beating Italy in the final.

That said, Korea’s side is not to be sniffed at. It is the 9th most valuable team at the tournament, and certainly looks stronger than the team Korea sent out two years ago. The third team in Korea’s group is South Africa, and as the four best 3rd placed teams in the group also qualify for the knockout rounds along with the top two of every group, even if Korea lose their opener against Portugal, they still have a decent chance of reaching the knockout stages.


Who to Watch – South Korea

(image via KBS News)
Lee Kang-in is the player fans will be keeping their eyes on in this tournament. The Valencia midfielder is seen as the next big thing in Korean football after making his La Liga debut and signing a long-term contract with the Spanish side, complete with an eye-watering release clause. Lee was called up to the senior national side in the last international break but didn’t make it onto the pitch for his full debut. 

Kim Jung-min has made his senior national team debut. He was brought on right at the end of Korea’s 1-1 draw against Australia last year. The FC Liefering midfielder also won a gold medal with the under-23s at the Asian Games in Indonesia last summer.

While the under-20 side two years ago was made up primarily of university players, this year’s team has far more K League representation. Suwon Bluewings’ Jeon Se-jin and FC Seoul’s Cho Young-wook are both having strong starts to their K League careers and are worth watching out for in this tournament.

Unfortunately for Korea, Bayern Munich haven’t released Jeong Woo-young for this tournament, which is a big blow to head coach Jung Jeong-yong’s plans.
You can here more about which players the K League United writers are looking forward to seeing in this tournament by listening to this episode of the K League United podcast.


Who to Watch – Portugal

(image via GiveMeSport)
Premier League fans have probably seen a bit of Portugal’s two full backs this season. Manchester United’s Diego Dalot and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Ruben Vinagre have both made over 20 appearances last season for their respective clubs. 

Another player likely to make the move to the Premier League is Benfica’s Gedson Fernandes, who has been linked with $40 million moves to a range of Premier League sides.

Up front, Korea will have to contend with Rafael Leao, who scored a goal every three games in Ligue 1 for Lille last season.

South Korea vs Portugal kicks off at 10:30 p.m. Seoul time on Saturday 25th May

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