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AFC U23 Championship Preview: Uzbekistan vs South Korea



A two goal first half was enough to see South Korea through to victory last time out against Iran, and now they face the defending champions knowing they have booked their place in the knockout stages.  Can they make it three out of three in the group stage?  KLU's Branko Belan looks ahead to the match.
(Photo courtesy of AFC)

Match: Uzbekistan vs South Korea
Venue: Thammasat Stadium
Kickoff: Wednesday January 15th, 2020; 19:15 KST

Last Time Out

China 1-2 Uzbekistan

A first half injury time penalty from Islomjon Kolibov and a second ten minutes from time by Nurillo Tukhtasinov were enough to fend off China as the defending champions got in the win column after opening the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Iran.  That puts them on four points with a chance to progress heading into the last matchday in the group.

China never looked the part on the day, and were punished at opportune times for the Uzbeks to take the win.

 Iran 1-2 South Korea

Goals from Lee Dong-jun and Cho Kyu-sung were the difference as South Korea held off a late charge from Iran to make it two wins from two and confirm their place in the knockout stages.  While not a perfect performance, it was a step up from their showing against China in their opening match.

Kim Hak-bum can have a bit more confidence knowing that he has striking options up top.  Lee Dong-jun has proven to be reliable with a pair of goals from the first two matches.  Oh Se-hun started the first match against China and did not fare particularly well, while Cho Kyu-sung got his name on the score sheet with what turned out to be the winner against Iran.  Both are capable players, but the latter seems to have the edge at the moment in terms of seeing time on the pitch to close out the group stage.


Previous Meetings

The last time these two sides met in this tournament was in the semi-finals two years ago, and it will not be remembered fondly by the Koreans, as they went out 4-1 after extra time in what was a dominating performance by Uzbekistan.

Overall, Korea have not looked convincing at this tournament, and will need to bring their best if they are to get three points from the match.  Uzbekistan looked better against China and will be looking to close out the group stage with a maximum nine points, but should Korea get their attack in order, pole position in the group may well be a toss up.

The Adversary

Islomjon Kobilov converted a first half penalty in Uzbekistan's 2-0 win over China. Photo courtesy of AFC.


Uzbekistan had almost two-thirds of possession when these two sides met the in semi-final in 2018, and scored three goals in extra time to seal the win.  The current squad is well balanced throughout, but Aziz Ganiev in particular has shown himself to be a solidifying force for those around him.

They have not been entirely convincing in their first two matches, but are capable of taking a match under control when the opportunity presents itself.  South Korea will need to execute well if they are to get maximum points from the match and set themselves up with confidence going into the knockout stages.

What to Watch

A lot will depend on how Kim Hak-bum approaches the final group match, knowing that finishing strong will set the tone for the rest of the tournament.  Korea have not looked strong defensively in the first two matches, and will need to do a better job of marking in the final third.

Lee Dong-jun has proven himself to be a valuable option in attack, but will need support to continue on his current run.  Both Oh Se-hun and Cho Kyu-sung are capable of starting, but if Kim decides to go with just one striker up top, they could start from the bench.  

Korea have not brought their best in this tournament yet, and need a standout performance to confirm their ambitions of winning.  It will also mean that they may have to roll the dice a bit as the first two matches have shown them to be somewhat predictable in their overall approach.

Prediction

Korea showed growth in having a strong first half against Iran, and will need to get back to that form if they are to come away with all three points in their final group match.  It hasn't been an easy road for them through the first two matches, but if they are to be considered among the favorites, a strong performance against Uzbekistan is necessary for them to approach the knockout stages with confidence.

How they play in the back end could determine the result, but they also have to make the most of their chances up front.  If they can find a lead within the first half hour, it could set the tone for the rest of the match.

Predicted Score: Uzbekistan 1-2 South Korea




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