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Preview: South Korea v Qatar


South Korea’s trip to Austria could be featured on an episode of ‘Holidays from Hell’. Paulo Bento’s already depleted squad was hit with a spate of COVID-19, with six players testing positive for the virus. A makeshift squad lost 3-2 to Mexico at the weekend. Next up is Qatar. K League United's Korea National Team correspondent Steve Price has the match preview:
(Image via AFC.com) 

Last Time Out

With six players being ruled out due to COVID-19, the match against Mexico could easily have become a farce. Kwon Chang-hoon, Hwang In-beom, Lee Dong-jun and Cho Hyeon-woo all tested positive the day before the match, and Na Sang-ho and Kim Moon-hwan tested positive just before kickoff. All players had tested negative before heading to the Austrian ‘bubble’ which has turned out to be not quite as watertight as first thought.

This, combined with Korea’s other injury problems, meant Paulo Bento had to reshuffle his defense. He opted for three at the back, although two of those players – Jeong Woo-young and Won Du-jae, who was making is proper debut – usually play as holding midfielders. With Cho Hyun-woo ruled out, Gu Sung-yun got a rare opportunity to start in goal, and he didn’t waste it, making several key saves early on in the match to keep South Korea in the game.

A lot of those early chances for Mexico came from defensive mistakes from the new-look back-line. But rather than Mexico taking their early chances, it was South Korea that took the lead, with Hwang Ui-jo getting on the end of Son Heung-min’s cross and side-footing the ball home.

Mexico almost levelled straight away, hitting the post from close range and creating several other good chances, but South Korea managed to get into half-time with their lead intact.

Twenty minutes into the second half, Mexico did eventually equalize, catching Korea in possession as they tried to pass it out from the back. From that moment on, the goals flew in and less than five minutes later, South Korea found themselves 3-1 down. They got a goal back from Kwon Kyung-won late on but the result at the end of the day reflected the quality of chances Mexico created throughout the match.

Qatar played Costa Rica earlier in this international break, drawing one-all with Hassan al-Haydos giving Qatar the lead with a penalty kick late in the first half before Joel Campbell equalized for Costa Rica on 67 minutes. 

Previous Meetings

Qatar are responsible for South Korea’s only loss in a competitive match under Paulo Bento, winning 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Asian Cup. It was a frustrating game for Korea, who had most of the ball but couldn’t carve out enough quality chances. Abdulaziz Hatem got the only goal of the game on 78 minutes, shortly after Kim Jin-su had hit the post with a freekick. Moments later, South Korea had a goal ruled out, but couldn’t find a way through the Qatar defense.
One To Watch

Qatar’s two star players are Almoez Ali and Akram Afif, who both spent time in Europe early on in their careers. Almoez Ali was the top scorer at the 2019 Asian Cup with 9 goals, including a spectacular bicycle kick in the final against Japan. He was also the subject of a failed complaint by the United Arab Emirates who claimed he wasn’t eligible for the tournament and that Qatar should have been disqualified. The Sudanese-born player spent the early part of his career in Austria for LASK Linz, before moving to Cultural Leonesa in Spain. He is now back in Qatar for Al-Duhail and has a record of almost one goal every two games for the national side.

Akram Afif was named Asian Footballer of the Year in 2019 after getting 10 assists in the Asian Cup. He graduated from Qatar’s Aspire Academy and played in Belgium for Eupen before moving to Villareal. That move didn’t quite work out for him and after loan spells at Sporting Gijon and Eupen (again), he returned to Qatar where he now plays at Al Sadd.

South Korea v Qatar kicks off at 10 p.m. Tuesday, South Korean time

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