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Preview: North Korea vs South Korea

South Korea face a historic away day in Pyongyang as they take on North Korea in what is probably their toughest match of the second round. They’ll be without any support and will have to deal with isolation and cope with the historic significance of the occasion if they are to get anything out of their trip to the North. K League United’s Korean national team correspondent Steve Price has the preview.

Last Time Out

South Korea warmed up for this match with a comfortable 8-0 win over Sri Lanka. Kim Shin-wook started up front for Korea and exploited Sri Lanka’s lack of a physical presence in defense to provide his teammates with an easy target for their passes and crosses. Son Heung-min opened the scoring for Korea in the 10th minute and scored a penalty right on half time but Kim Shin-wook was the star of the show with four goals. Hwang Hee-chan and Kwon Chang-hoon grabbed the other two goals for Korea.

The game was notable for Lee Kang-in making his competitive debut. Lee wowed fans with his tricks and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself. Son Heung-min played for 60 minutes before being substituted, but was harshly booked by the referee for walking across the pitch rather than leaving the playing field by the nearest side. Could that yellow card come back to bite Korea later in qualifying?

North Korea scraped past Sri Lanka 1-0 in their last match, with center back Jang Kuk-chol getting the only goal of the game. But more importantly, they beat Lebanon 2-0 at home in the match before, giving them a good chance of finishing in the top two of this group. 

Previous Meetings

This may be South Korea’s first trip to Pyongyang in nearly 30 years, but these two sides do play each other quite frequently. Their last meeting was in the East Asian Cup in Tokyo back in December 2017. South Korea won that game one-nil thanks to a Ri Yong-chol own goal. They went on to win the tournament after beating Japan 4-1 in their final match. Shin Tae-yong was in charge of South Korea in that match and started with a 4-3-3 formation with Jin Sung-wook up front. Jin was later replaced by Kim Shin-wook. That South Korean side, which was made up of players from leagues in Asia, looks very different from the current national team with Kim Jin-su, Kwon Kyung-won, Jung Woo-young, Lee Jae-sung and Kim Shin-wook the only outfield players in the current squad to feature in that match. 

KLU Pod | World Cup Qualifier Preview



Team News

South Korea will travel to the North via Beijing on Monday and spend just one night in Pyongyang. As fans and media won’t be traveling, they will feel pretty isolated in the North. Expect quite a few changes from the lineup that faced Sri Lanka, with coach Paulo Bento likely to use more experienced players. North Korea’s Kim Il Sung Stadium is not the massive May Day Stadium where the North holds its Arirang Mass Games. But it does present a different challenge for South Korea as it has an artificial pitch. Hopefully South Korea have been practicing on one of Seoul’s many plastic pitches to get used to the surface.

The Adversary

North Korea have a reputation as a defensive team, perhaps based on their run to the 2010 World Cup where they went through the equivalent round of that qualifying campaign without conceding a single goal. Since then, they became more attacking under former head coach Jorn Andersen, but form under his successor Kim Yong-jun was dreadful. This led North Korea to turn to Yun Jong-su in July to lead them. Yun has managed the team for a combined almost 10 years during two previous spells in the dugout. He has tightened up the North’s defense once again, losing just once so far in this current tenure.

Who To Watch

It looks like the match won’t be televised, at least not live, so there isn’t really anyone for you to watch. But for South Korea, this match will be a real test of captain Son Heung-min’s leadership abilities. Most of South Korea’s squad are quite young and they’ll need the Champions’ League finalist to make sure that they don’t get overawed by the occasion.

Han Kwang-song is the most promising North Korean footballer in a long time. The 21-year-old is currently at Juventus Under-23s after scoring 11 goals in 39 appearances for Serie B side Perugia. Captain Jong Il-gwan, who used to play in the Swiss leagues, will be another attacking threat from the North. He scored twice in North Korea’s recent win over Lebanon.

South Korea play North Korea in Pyongyang at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 15th October. K League United will do our best to provide updates on the match.

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