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U20 World Cup Final Preview: Ukraine vs South Korea

With millions set to tune in and witness history as South Korea take their first steps in a men's World Cup final, Chung Jung-yong's team have made their mark no matter what the result come the early hours of Sunday morning. Forging a cohesive unit that has seen off the likes of Argentina, Japan and Ecuador to meet Ukraine in Lodz this weekend, Chung's blend of domestic K League players and international trailblazers have become household names across the Korean peninsula.


Last Time Out

South Korea U20s 1-0 Ecuador U20s

While enjoying a slice of luck to please fans in Poland and night owls back home alike, Korea enjoyed their best performance of the tournament, particularly in the first half. The majority of potent attacks came down the left and that's where the goal stemmed from as referee Michael Oliver gave a free kick just before the break. Dictating play throughout the first half, Lee Kang-in's quick thinking set up Yonsei University's Choi Jun to curl into the far corner to add to his rising stock. That's how it stayed with Korea managing the game better than in previous rounds. Manager Chung's options from the bench once again proved useful with Cho Young-wook and Eom Won-sang both pushing for starts in the final after impressive cameos.

Moments after Gwangju winger Eom looked to have sealed the victory for Korea, one VAR decision to disallow the goal later and they had keeper Lee Gwang-yeon to thank for displaying razor-sharp reflexes in injury time to deny an equaliser. Korea appeared to slacken off towards the end due to fatigue, with talisman Lee Kang-in replaced relatively early, although it appears he will be fine for the showpiece event. Elsewhere on the pitch, Daejeon Citizen's Lee Ji-sol continued his steady campaign at the back, while Oh Se-hun is doing his reputation no harm as one of the best natural number nines in the tournament. The fact that both will return to K League 2 campaigns next week with their respective clubs is a positive sign for the development of the domestic game.

Ukraine U20s 1-0 Italy U20s

Their second consecutive 1-0 victory to reach the final, Ukraine progressed thanks to Serhiy Buletsa's 65th-minute strike. Capitalising on a mistake in the Italian midfield, Oleksii Kashchuk fed Yuhkym Konoplia on the right who laid it on a plate for Dynamo Kiev midfielder Buletsa to smash home the winner. Ukraine had Andrij Lunin to thank for retaining their advantage. The keeper, who Real Madrid once paid 8.5m euros to sign, made some vital saves and displayed exceptional positional sense throughout. Ukraine were unlucky not to add a second to make their lead comfortable as Kashchuk struck the bar from range, before they were let off the hook by Italian substitute Christian Capone squandering a great opportunity on 89 minutes.

VAR had its say once more, cutting jubilant Italian celebrations short after Gianluca Scamacca fired in a spectacular volley on the turn in injury time. Controversially, referee Raphael Claus ruled out the goal in what seemed to be an extremely soft decision. Unfortunately the final will be without one of the tournaments star defenders as Denys Popov saw red for an elbow late on. Incidentally, Korea boast one of the best disciplinary records in the competition despite reaching its final game, collecting just six yellow cards in six games.


Previous Meetings

Losing their last five against European opposition, Korea U20s have a monkey to get off their back having also lost to Portugal in their opening game of this World Cup. Two friendlies in March to prepare for this tournament did not exactly help to ease any lingering anxieties with defeats to France and fellow finalists Ukraine. Losing to the latter by a 1-0 score line just months ago will no doubt have taught boss Chung plenty about both his side and the side that stand between them and World Cup glory.

The Adversary

Ukraine were expected to progress from their group but beyond that there wasn't too much pressure piled on them. They've embraced their underdog status as they did in last year's U19 Euro's to devastating effect, where they beat England and France along the way. This group of players has some potential to be a golden generation for Ukraine. While you can certainly name stand out players, it's really been as much about team spirit, chemistry and the determination of the team who have been gaining more and more recognition back home as the tournament has progressed. What's impressive is how they have taken it in their stride as opposed to buckling under the growing expectations of a nation.

In terms of how manager Oleksandr Petrakov will set up for the final, Denys Popov will certainly be a big loss for the back line. Missing through suspension, his second yellow in the semi-final was dubious but it seems unlikely that an appeal will be lodged. Andriy Lunin returned from senior duty to play against Italy and he will once again most likely start in the final. Expect the line-up to be similar to the Italy game, with Danilo Sikan up front.
The interchangeability of the squad has been its primary asset this tournament, with players coming in for key men and looking as comfortable as their 'first choice' counterparts. Heorhii Tsiatashvilli was one to watch pre-tournament, but has faded as the World Cup has gone on. This hasn't affected the team as deeply as it should have thanks to the depth in quality and self belief instilled by veteran youth team manager Petrakov.

Who To Watch

Midfield maestro Serhiy Buletsa has been Ukraine's player of the tournament. With his goals and assists contribution proving pivotal for a number of the side's victories including the semi-final win against Italy and wins over USA and Qatar. Denys Popov at centre back may be suspended but is one to watch for the future. He's been a rock in defence and also a potent attacking threat from set pieces, drawing comparisons to Virgil Van Dijk. Yukhim Konoplia has been the surprise package for Ukraine without too much pre-tournament hype. and has been unplayable at times at right wing-back and is reminiscent of Trent Alexander-Arnold. With a constant delivery threat from out wide the 19-year-old is always on the overlap, possesses pace and has three assists to his name.

By Zorya Londonsk Weekly - Andrew Todos


Prediction

Gangwon keeper Lee Gwang-yeon professed minutes after his vital stoppage time save against Ecuador that mental strength is his side's biggest asset. They will need to show this in abundance to see off a Ukraine side that are unbeaten in nine not conceding more than once in any of those fixtures. With players and a manager that have recent big tournament experience, Ukraine may also feel more comfortable playing in a final located just six hours from the Ukrainian border.

Conceding late goals against Argentina and Senegal, plus late drama in the semi-final, Korea's defence may have to withstand another onslaught this time backed by numerous opposition fans. However, Korea will have the host nation behind them and should Lee Kang-in turn it on once more, that spark could break through a stubborn defence and give them something to cling onto. Tactically you would expect Korea to utilize their ability on the break which has reaped rewards so far. Leading the tournament in terms of interceptions (285), coupled with an average 40% possession rate shows that they are looking for opportunities to break. However, with Ukraine's tough defence in mind and the fact that they have hardly been shy in front of goal in this tournament, I feel they may just have the edge in this one.

South Korea 1-1 Ukraine (Ukraine to win AET)

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