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Preview: Turkmenistan vs South Korea

Set for their first competitive fixture since January's Asian Cup exit, Paulo Bento takes his new-look squad to Turkmenistan as South Korea embark on the road to Doha 2022. Off the back of an uninspiring friendly draw in Georgia, that perhaps posed more questions than it answered, the Taeguk Warriors head to Ashgabat for the first time since Kim Doheon's hat-trick sealed a 3-1 win in 2010's qualifying campaign. We spoke to Asian Football writer Martin Lowe in the midst of the Emerald's opening Group H victory against Sri Lanka.   
(Image via Daily Sports Hankook)

Peter Hampshire asks, Martin Lowe answers

Peter Hampshire: Ante Mise took charge following Turkmenistan's group-stage exit at the Asian Cup, what if anything has changed since his appointment?

Martin Lowe: Turkmenistan's Asian Cup campaign was seen as an important step towards being more competitive continentally. While they recorded three defeats from three, performances (especially in their opener against eventual finalists Japan) won them plenty of new fans. The tournament marked a modern peak for the national team, yet progress to the next level needed a little push. For some time now, Turkmen football has been considerably inward-looking (as can be said for much of the country in general), to the extent that much of their January's Asian Cup was build around the successes of a single team, domestic champions Altyn Asyr, from coach to the vast majority of the playing staff. With the club's rise, came Turkmenistan's late push for qualification, yet conversely, Altyn Asyr's drop in form to end 2018 saw the national team drop in confidence also.

A brave and unexpected move away from a home coach for the first time and a weather-worn approach was the footballing landscape's reward for such a quick increase in expectation and interest built upon their Asian Cup appearance. Newfound agreements with the Croatian Football Federation, including the hiring of Ante Mise to replace living legend Yazguly Hojageldyyev will no doubt have raised eyebrows within a domestic football scene that only saw it's first foreign (outside their ex-Soviet neighbours) signing over the summer. Mise brings with him a modest CV to date when compared to the likes of his counterpart on Tuesday Paulo Bento, however for a nation ranked 132nd in the world at present, a new set of ideas and a shakeup of how the country thinks about football to dovetail with newfound expectancies should prove an interesting watch.

For their June friendly with Uganda, Mise named a majority home-based squad with 20 of of 23 playing in the domestic league. Much is made of the Korean side's travel fatigue with many players based in Europe. Do you think Turkmenistan hold an advantage from playing with and against each other more regularly?

ML: The undeniable strength of Turkmenistan of old has been their unity and cohesive setup. With Hojageldyyev departing, as has the unbreakable notion, that a single thread of leading club to country can be relied upon. Much of the squad is still built around Altyn Asyr, who lead comfortably again in the league this term, however, with the ongoing promise of Arslanmyrat Amanov who has moved to Lokomotiv Tashkent in Uzbekistan, alongside Wahyt Orazsahedov who's moved to Kyrgyzstan, the squad feels a little more diverse.

The player that encapsulates this most is returning goal-scoring hero Artur Geworkyan. A player outcasted by Hojageldyyev in latter qualification last year, the flexible attacking outlet has arguably more pedigree than whole swathes of this current squad put together having played in Uzbekistan for the majority of his career. His return will look to instill an experienced head alongside a growingly youthful lineup, that are starting to have long term ambitions of competing ahead of the status quo.

Which players should Korean fans lookout for that could potentially help the Emeralds cause an upset? Missing out on 2nd place in World Cup Qualifying by a single point for 2018, does the squad contain that bit more quality to push over the line?

ML: Throughout the last few cycles, attacking quality has been at a premium, often isolated in a key man or two to spearhead the attack. Four years ago in the earlier rounds, Geworkyan was the pinpoint, yet upon his fallout, former futsal star Altymyrat Annadurdyyev moved into the limelight. The electric outside forward, who makes up for his lack of guile with guided determination and directness was a whirlwind in 2018, not only spearheading Turkmenistan's Asian Cup return, but also firing Altyn Asyr to a debut AFC Cup final. Injury and a more cautious approach in the UAE tarnished what could've been a breakout tournament for Annadurdyyev, yet at home he'll likely be given the freedom to threaten.

In addition, there are a few hidden gems to keep an eye on heading into the new cycle. Attacking midfielder Resul Hojayev is one of the most talented young ball players in Central Asia, while Mihail Titov is highly coveted to become the next Emerald spearhead. How Ante Mise decides to gel a defining generation of players, with another set looking primed to overthrow them will undoubtedly decide his fate long term.

[LISTEN: KLU Pod - South Korea vs Georgia and Turkmenistan preview]

Martins Lowe Asks, Peter Hampshire Answers

Martin Lowe: Korea have bounced back from their Asian Cup quarter final exit impressively, with three wins and two draws in some pretty stiff friendlies. Has Bento been able to return them to the track fully?

Peter Hampshire: Bento's 16-game tenure in the Korean hot-seat has been plain sailing for the majority, only suffering one defeat, namely the Asian Cup loss to Qatar. While the Lisbon man will quite rightly be judged on Korea's progression in tournament football, there has been a marked improvement in terms of entertainment and attacking intent. Previous qualifying campaigns under former managers Shin Taeyong and Uli Stielike seemed overly cautious, perhaps trying to engineer a style of play to work well against better teams in tournament knockouts, but Bento has loosened the reins and used the momentum of 2018 Asian Games success to introduce the next generation.

Korea's latest friendly against Georgia was presumably selected to prepare for a similar test against Turkmenistan, but Bento's boys didn't look too convincing in an altered eleven. Expected 3rd choice keeper Gu Sungyu debuted in goal while lackadaisical defensive errors from experience players such as Kim Younggwon allowed the hosts to score twice in a 2-2 draw. Previous friendlies showed more promise however, with good performances against Bolivia and Colombia producing entertaining victories, while June's draw with Iran in Seoul showed this squad does not lack spirit and aggression.

There has been some experimentation with formations of late. How do you think they'll set up against Turkmenistan?

PH: Through Bento's squad and snippets of training seen by the media, it seems that Korea will play with one sole striker with Son Heungmin humming around playing off him. First choice currently is Hwang Uijo, who showed great movement to bag a brace against Georgia and seems revitalised over the past year. Selecting Lee Jeonghyeop, who is of a similar mould to Hwang, suggests that those two could be rotated, while the recall of Kim Shinwook to the fold could be an indication that Bento is keen to utilise Korea's strength at wing-back with balls into the box. Whoever gets chosen as number nine, they will be blessed with quality deliveries from the likes of Lee Yong and Kim Jinsu out wide.

Considering this could be Korea's trickiest qualifying fixture we should see an experienced side to put early points on the board. However, one area where Korea possesses an unknown quantity is in the trio of central midfielders. With Ki Seungyeung's absence comes a dilemma of whether to stick with Jung Wooyoung as a calming midfield anchor, or attempt a more expansive style and combine the influx of youngsters capable of playing in behind the forward line at Bento's disposal. For this fixture at least, I believe Jung will be favoured alongside a spectacularly in-form Kim Bokyung to provide some cool heads. The Portuguese boss also has decisions to make in the goalkeeping department, but is expected to opt for another Ulsan Hyundai's player in Kim Seunggyu, who possesses better distribution skills than fellow keeper Cho Hyunwoo.

ML: What do the Korean fans expect from the team in Round 2 of World Cup Qualifying? Progression is a given, but are they expecting a certain brand of football, more new faces to be introduced etc?

PH: Showing more than mere qualification in this campaign is something not only on the Korean fans minds, with Tottenham star Son stating in a rather stern interview that just turning up for such fixtures was not enough, going as far as suggesting that Korea will not qualify should they play with the same intensity and desire as they did against Georgia. Exaggerating perhaps to get a tune out of under-performing teammates, Son and his fans alike want to see a continuation of that high pace attacking football seen in home friendlies. One year into his Korean national team stint, it's clear that Bento shares these desires, with players such as direct right back Kim Taehwan involved and starlet Lee Kangin claiming his debut this week. Valencia's Lee seems on the verge of a breakout season and has been the most talked about youngster on the peninsula of late, with many keen to see him given the free role that saw him claim the Golden Ball at the U-20 World Cup. Other youngsters who may feel slightly aggrieved to not get the nod are forwards Oh Sehun and Cho Youngwook. Ousted by veteran Kim Shinwook, this shows that Bento is keen to implement a style of football that while expansive is also versatile and contains a plan B. Elsewhere, perhaps blemished by his past at Barcelona, a new start for midfielder Paik Seungho at Darmstadt was coupled with a starting berth against Georgia, however, the 22-year-old didn't enjoy the best of games and may have to settle for appearances from the bench.

[READ: Lee Kangin's career headed to the next level]

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