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AFC U23 Championship Preview: South Korea vs Australia


South Korea sit one victory away from Olympic qualification after seeing off Jordan in unconvincing fashion to set up a semi-final clash with Group A winners Australia. The AFC U23 Championship heads to Pathum Thani, just north of Bangkok, on Wednesday. Success for Kim Hak-beom's side would see them face either an impressive Saudi Arabia or the tournament holders Uzbekistan, who they have already beaten. 
(Image via AFC)

Last Time Out

South Korea 2-1 Jordan

Korea survived their first real scare of the tournament edging past Jordan in stoppage time thanks to Lee Dong-gyeong's inch-perfect free kick. FC Anyang's Cho Kyu-sung benefited from the bravery of Lee Dong-jun after just 15 minutes to put Korea ahead with a simple header at the back post. Watching the opening exchanges, you would be forgiven for thinking that Kim Hak-beom's men were in for a comfortable evening as they dominated the first half. Kim Dae-won, involved in the opener, forced a fine finger tip save from Abdallah Alfakhori before the Daegu FC winger popped up on the left to cross for a tepid header from Cho. The Taeguk Warriors dominance appeared to continue into the second half as Kim Jin-ya cut inside to fire a low drive against the base of the post. Getting a foothold in the game late on, Jordan's Mohammad Bani Atieh scuffed a shot that fell fortuitously into the path of substitute Yazan Alnaimat, whose shot was too powerful for Song Beom-keun. With the game heading for extra time, Lee Dong-gyeong made the most of a soft free kick awarded for a foul on him 20 yards from goal and just right of centre. The number 10 broke Jordanian hearts in the 95th-minute curling in off the post.


Australia 1-0 Syria

Australia boss Graham Arnold felt it necessary to make just two changes with Thomas Deng and new Perth Glory signing Nicholas D'Agostino coming in after their final group stage game, a 1-1 draw with Bahrain. Gabriel Cleur and Alhassan Toure both dropped to the bench as the Socceroos stoked up their unlikely rivalry with Syria once more. Replicating their 2018 World Cup qualifying success with yet another Extra Time winner, 19-year-old Toure came on to grab the winner poking past Mohammed Ourabi from fellow substitute Aiden O'Neill's pinpoint through ball. Earning their first clean sheet of an uninspiring tournament so far, Australia's young guns showed great spirit against a Syria side who kept Tom Glovers' hands warm with a series of long range efforts. Neither side possessed the guile to find that killer pass to set up a clear opportunity until O'Neill's 103rd-minute ball forward unlocked the Eagles defence.


Previous Meetings

Both sides met in the qualifying rounds of Thailand 2020 and played out a 2-2 draw whereby Nicholas D'Agostino grabbed a first half brace. FC Seoul's Cho Young-wook halved the deficit almost instantly before Korea's hero against Jordan Lee Dong-gyeong fired home the equaliser on the hour mark. In the 2018 incumbent of the competition the pair met again with Korea racing to a three-goal lead only to be left clinging on to a 3-2 victory. The pair have never met prior to that at this age category, with a first Olympic meeting on the cards should the loser of this contest win the third-place playoff next on Saturday.

The Adversary

Looking to qualify for Olympic football for the first time since 2008, Australia have two shots at booking their place in Tokyo, with three of the four teams remaining set to play in the Games this summer. The Olyroos have been solid without putting in many performances pleasing to the eye so far in Thailand, boasting a sturdy defence that comprises some relatively experienced players such as Deng and Alex Gersbach at full back. Edging their way to the top of an evenly-matched group, they haven't really managed to put together many passages of free flowing football at the right end of the pitch. Failing to get more than four shots on target in any of their four games so far, they have been clinical up front with D'Agostino joining Korea's Lee Dong-jun and Oh Se-hun on two goals for the tournament.

Tottenham Hotspur youth product Tom Glover clearly rates this squad in comparison to others he has been part of. The keeper told Fox Sports News: "I have been in the national team set-up for a while and I don't think I have played in a team with this much depth." This came following the pair of substitutes linking to see off Syria in dramatic fashion. Insistent that playing an extra 30 minutes compared to Korea will not affect his players, Olyroos boss Arnold expects his side to win against a side he knows very well and have also enjoyed a days rest more than. Speaking to Socceroos, he said: "We know what they are about and for me it's all about us and preparing ourselves right."

(Image via AFC)

What To Watch

Keeper Song Beom-keun and Daegu FC's Jeong Tae-wook were the only two to survive in Korea's back five in changes made after the final group stage victory over Uzbekistan. Further wholesale alterations were made in midfield with only Won Du-jae keeping his starting berth as Cho Kyu-sung returned to take the place of Oh Se-hun. With the Uzbek match a dead rubber, these changes were significant in showing with Kim Hak-beom believes to be his strongest team. You would certainly not expect so many alterations for the semi-final.

While you would expect a more settled side against Australia, Boss Kim certainly values the impact of those form the bench, which turned out to be a deciding factor against Jordan. He told the AFC: "I always knew that the match would be decided by substitutions. I had originally wanted to use Lee Dong-gyeong for the last 30 minutes, but I had to bring him on at half-time because of the match circumstances." One area where I feel Kim may switch personnel once more is the centre forward position with Oh Se-hun coming in for Cho Kyu-sung. The pair are very similar players and interchange seamlessly without altering the teams style of play.

(Image via AFC)

Prediction

Neither side have managed to win a game in Thailand by more than one clear goal with Korea winning all four fixtures so far by that margin. I feel this match will run to form with Australia once again focusing on keeping things tight at the back and being clinical with their few chances. With the Olyroos strength at centre back, that may limit one of Korea's most influential players so far in Kim Dae-won, however I feel they will still claim victory on road to Sunday's final.

South Korea 1-0 Australia

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