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Preview: South Korea U-20s vs Ecuador U-20s

U20 World Cup Preview: South Korea vs Ecuador
Reaching the last four for the first time since 1983, Korea head to the Arena Lublin to face Ecuador in the semi-finals of the U-20 World Cup. Bolstered by new-found belief after scathing battles in the quarters, both camps feel they have what it takes to progress to the final in Lodz where Italy or Ukraine await. 


Last Time Out

South Korea U-20s 3-3 Senegal U-20s (AET - Korea win 3-2 on penalties)

In possibly the game of the tournament so far, Korea survived a multitude of dramas to edge past a spirited Senegal side who will feel aggrieved to be heading home. The match ebbed and flowed from the sublime to the ridiculous with Chung Jung-yong's side claiming a 98th-minute equaliser through Lee Ji-sol's thunderous header. After the Daejeon Citizen defender's goal sent the game to extra time, Korea were then given a taste of their own medicine as Amadou Ciss slotted home a 121st-minute leveler. Continuous VAR interruptions led to segments of the match becoming farcical with technology also impacting the shootout. Missing their first two penalties, hope looked lost for Korea before the referee ordered a retake in the favour of Oh Se-hun. For the decisive spot-kick, keeper Lee Gwang-yeon looked on in glee as Senegal's fifth taker skied the ball over the bar. Following their dramatic win, boss Cho emphasised the years of hard work put into this group.

Highlights here

Ecuador U-20s 2-1 United States U-20s

Claiming his side are "growing in confidence with each passing game", Ecuador boss Jorge Celico witnessed his young chargers claim a semi-final berth for the first time in their history. Jose Cifuentes was afforded far too much space on the left to arrow home a vicious opener before 'La Mini-tri' were pegged back almost immediately after sloppy defending from a corner. However, Celico's side still found time ahead of the interval to retake the lead. Gonzalo Plata cracked the bar from 25 yards with the rebound falling kindly for Jhon Espinoza to eventually bundle the ball home. Celico, who is one of only three managers at the tournament who don't share a nationality with the team they manage, believes his U-20 South American Champions possess the maturity and humility needed for the latter stages.

Highlights here

Previous Meetings

On top of in-tournament analysis, both sides will have in-depth knowledge of their opponent after last month's friendly behind closed doors. Played just three weeks ago, battles on the pitch that day will live fresh in the memory and the 1-0 victory bodes well for Korea. While both sides boasted different squads two years ago, Ecuador's youth incumbent beat South Korea's U-20s 2-0 making the most of limited chances in a friendly just prior to the 2017 U-20 World Cup. The full national teams also met in Seoul in 2010, with Lee Seung-ryul and Lee Chung-young bagging for the hosts.

The Adversary

Ecuador were South American champions thanks to their fluid, attacking 4-2-3-1 and that's what's guided them to the semi-finals of the World Cup. Jose Cifuentes has been a stalwart for the Ecuadorians so far with his ability to press, track back and close down space. That's crucial for this team given their attacking nature. But he's also a very effective dribbler going forward, so he's a threat in the final third, which was evident against the United States. Jordan Rezabala and Alexander Alvarado have sparked the attack while Leonardo Campana continues to be an effective hold-up striker. All three will be players to watch for South Korea in that respect. Ecuador can be left exposed on counter-attacks due to their attack-minded tactics, especially via the flanks, so that could be a weakness against the Koreans who punished Senegal in those situations.

Peter Galindo 

Prediction

Returning to the scene of their round of 16 triumph against Japan, Korea know from recent experience that this Ecuador side are beatable. The South Americans have also only kept one clean sheet in five and claimed just one win in the groups. While Korea's defence has hardly been watertight either, you sensed an aura of bolshiness in the ranks from the keeper grinning through the shootout to Lee Kang-in's comfort on the ball. Cho Young-wook, who seemed a regular in midfield, had to settle for a place on the bench last time out but I would expect him to regain his place and have an impact once more. It's a question of whether Ecuador's more direct style will win over a Korean side who more patiently playoff Oh Se-hun as an old fashioned number nine. I think there'll be plenty of goalmouth action and Korea will edge it.

Predicted Score: South Korea 2-1 Ecuador

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