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Preview: Mexico vs South Korea

South Korea has two international friendlies ahead in the month of November, the first of which will be played against Mexico at the Weiner Neustadt Stadium in Austria in the early hours of the morning local time in Korea.  The last time the two sides met was at the World Cup two years ago in Russia.  Mexico prevailed 2-1 thanks to a goal in each half from Carlos Vela in the first half and Javier Hernandez in the second.  Son Heung-min scored a late consolation, but it was not enough to make an impact.  Guillermo Ochoa also made five saves to help El Tri secure all three points on the day.  What will the upcoming match have in store?  KLU's Branko Belan has a closer look.
(Photo courtesy of AFC)

Match: Mexico vs South Korea
Venue: Stadion Weiner Neustadt
Kickoff: Sunday, November 15th, 2020; 05:00 KST

Things have changed considerably for Korea since the last time they faced their opposition at the World Cup in Russia two years ago.  Paulo Bento was appointed as the new manager of the national team one month following the conclusion of the tournament and has had mixed results since taking the helm.  The team only managed to advance as far as the quarter-finals at the 2019 Asian Cup last year, where they bowed out to eventual champions Qatar but bounced back somewhat by winning the EAFF-E1 title over traditional rivals Japan late last year.  It was their second consecutive win in that competition and third overall.

With World Cup qualifiers set to resume at some point next year, these two matches present the opportunity for the group to mesh as they have had very little time to be together this year amidst the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.  However, with some key names missing from the squad for various reasons, establishing chemistry will be something that will need a bit more time to achieve, but they will have to make do with the players they have at their disposal for this international cycle.

The Last Time They Met

South Korea 1-2 Mexico - Russia 2018 World Cup Group Stage

Jung Woo-young and  Héctor Herrera battle for possession of the ball during their World Cup group stage match in 2018.  Photo courtesy of FIFA.
The last time Mexico and South Korea met was in the group stage at the World Cup in Russia two years ago, a match won by El Tri by a score of 2-1.  Things looked fairly even until midway through the first half, when the Mexicans were the first ones to catch a break which would swing the match in their favor.  Andrés Guardado attempted to cross in from the left, but the ball struck Jang Hyun-soo on the arm.  The penalty was given and Carlos Vela converted the spot kick, sending Jo Hyun-woo the wrong way.

Both teams would foray forward until the break, but neither side found the mark, and Juan Carlos Osorio's men led at the interval.

Guardado had the first chance of any consequence in the second half, testing Jo with a left-footed strike which the Korean goalkeeper palmed away with a fine top hand save just before the hour mark.  Carlos Vela could have had his second on 61 minutes but curled his effort just over the bar.

The Mexicans would keep coming and eventually did double their advantage five minutes later when Hirving Lozano made a run through the middle deep into the Korean defense, then finding Javier Hernandez to his left, and the forward calmly swept the ball into the net, his 50th goal for the national team on the occasion.

Javier Hernandez scored his 50th goal for Mexico in their 2-1 World Cup win against South Korea in Russia.  Photo courtesy of FIFA.
Son Heung-min would grab a consolation goal for South Korea in the third minute of injury time, a scintillating curler which Guillermo Ochoa had no chance of stopping after he had kept out five previous efforts from the Koreans.  

In two previous meetings before then, Mexico won convincingly in a friendly played in 2014 by a 4-0 count, and also beat them in the group stage at the World Cup in France in 1998, scoring three goals in the second half to overturn a one goal deficit at the interval.

Team News


Inter Miami CF's Rodolfo Pizarro has joined the 26-man squad heading to Austria.  He played for the national team in both of their friendly matches in October, a 1-0 win over the Netherlands and a 2-2 draw with reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Algeria.  Jonathan dos Santos has also been called into the side, but Alan Pulido misses out due to quarantine restrictions.  He is also currently injured following damage to his medial collateral ligament in training with his MLS club Sporting Kansas City.

Elsewhere, Hirving Lozano will wear the national colors for the first time in a year, having not played for his country since October of last year, while Guillermo Ochoa returns from injury.

Other injuries in the squad include captain Guardado as well as Erick GutierrezJavier Hernandez and Jose Juan Macias are also absent.

This means that a host of younger players will receive the opportunity to represent their country in international play this month, highlighted by the likes of Edson Alvarez and Diego Lainez.

Perhaps the greatest threat the South Koreans will face comes in the form of Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Raúl Jiménez.  The number nine for both club and country has scored four goals in eight matches in the EPL this season and will be looking to add to his 23 goals for the national team as well.

South Korea

Paulo Bento has insisted he is not looking to get revenge for the fact that Korea lost to Mexico at the World Cup two years ago, instead saying that what will happen on the pitch will be what he is focused on most.

"Just because we face those teams, it doesn't give me any extra motivation.  If we get caught up in trying to take revenge, it will only increase the possibility of losing the match at hand.  We have to stay focused on the action on the field, and I'll remind our players of that," he said.

Son Heung-min, who has ten goals across all competitions this season and Hwang Hee-chan highlight the forward selections, while Won Du-jae of Ulsan Hyundai in K League 1 will look to make a case for himself to find a more permanent spot with the senior national team following a strong first season with the Horangi in 2020.

Freiburg's Kwon Chang-hoon and Holstein Kiel's Lee Jae-sung will only be available for the match against Mexico because of quarantine restrictions upon their return to Germany from Austria according to Steve Han of Goal Korea.
In other news, former Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors fullback Kim Jin-su recently tested positive for COVID-19 and Hong Chul is also out with a knee injury.  Jung Seong-hyun has been selected as his replacement, leaving only Lee Ju-yong and Yoon Jong-gyu as options at left back.  Lee Yong and Kim Young-gwon are also out, while Kim Min-jae's CSL club Beijing Guoan refused to release him for international duty because of the global pandemic, leaving Bento's men without a first-choice player in the back.

The Adversary

Raúl Jiménez has scored twenty-three goals for his country, the latest in a 1-0 win over the Netherlands last month.  Photo courtesy of Goal.
Mexico have played three international friendlies in 2020, with wins over Guatemala and the Netherlands by scores of 3-0 and 1-0, respectively, and they also drew 2-2 with Algeria.  They completely dominated their Central American counterparts, thanks to their almost flawless possession of the ball, and three goals from Henry Martin, Orbelin Pineda and Francisco Sebastián Córdova Reyes were more than enough to get them over the line.

Their match against the Netherlands was a true test of their mettle as a group, but they managed to persevere in the end, with Raúl Jiménez scoring the only goal of the match from the penalty spot on the hour mark in what was an evenly contested match.

Jesus Manuel Corona got El Tri out of the blocks with two minutes remaining in the first half of their match against Algeria, but Ismaël Bennacer restored parity only two minutes later.  The African champions would go down to ten men on 55 minutes as Adlène Guedioura was shown his second yellow card of the encounter.  Riyad Mahrez made it 2-1 to Algeria on 67 minutes before Deigo Lainez was able to find an equalizer four minutes from time for Gerardo "Tata" Martino's men.

What to Watch

How will Bento set his team up tactically?

It is already known that Bento will be lacking quite a bit in the back with his entire starting back four now out either due to injury or in Kim Jin-su's case, COVID infection.  The Portuguese manager also only called six midfielders for this pair of matches and two will only be available to him for the match against Mexico.  The positive is that a lot of good, young attacking talent is in the side, and, in particular, Eom Won-sang and Lee Kang-in stand out.

Paulo Bento will have to consider his starting eleven very carefully with several players out.  Photo courtesy of The Korea Times.
The positive is that several players have made the transition from the U-23 team to the senior side, and Kim Hak-bum was quoted as saying that such a move could only be beneficial to them as they progress in their careers.  That said, it is a very distinct possibility that many of them could see a good chunk of playing time while in Austria.  With several of the senior players out, it is their time to prove whether they are truly capable of making the jump into playing against tougher competition.


South Korea lost to Mexico at a major tournament the last time they played, but both Bento and the players are insistent that they are not focused on getting revenge, but rather on how they play.  Depending on the level of their response, they may be able to keep themselves in the match, but Mexico is quick on the counter and attacks with pace.  Both teams will be without several players, so it is difficult to get a read on how the match may play out.  South Korea has not beaten Mexico in three tries, but if they limit their mistakes in the back and are able to take their chances up front, they may be able to come away with a score draw. 


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