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South Korea Approach Sri Lanka With Momentum Following Emphatic Win

South Korea recorded a resounding 5-0 triumph over Turkmenistan on Saturday night but still have work to do ahead of their remaining two qualifying matches.  Next up is Sri Lanka who fought bravely to the end against Lebanon but ultimately came up short in a 3-2 defeat.  Despite the circumstances on both ends, Paulo Bento knows now is not the time to let his foot off the pedal as his charges need to win both of their remaining matches this month to guarantee passage as top of Group H custodians to the next phase of qualifying for Qatar 2022.  KLU's Branko Belan previews the upcoming match.
(Photo courtesy of AFC)

Match: South Korea vs Sri Lanka
Venue: Goyang Stadium
Kickoff: Wednesday June 9th, 2021; 20:00 KST

Recent Form 

Taeguk Warriors Cruise Past Turkmenistan

Following a disastrous performance in Yokohama in March, Paulo Bento's men were under considerable pressure to produce a result against Turkmenistan as qualifiers were set to resume.  Hwang Ui-jo got things started early when he found the back of the net after just ten minutes, nodding home Hong Chul's cross into the area from close range.  Rasul Charyyev had an outstanding first half between the sticks for Turkmenistan, making several saves to keep the deficit to one until Nam Tae-hee pounced on a rebound in injury time to double the advantage as the teams went into the break.

Kim Young-gwon, Kwon Chang-hoon, and Hwang with his second of the match would be on target within sixteen minutes of each other and that would salt the match away in convincing fashion.  It was easily South Korea's best performance under Bento and they will now have momentum on their side as they look to their final two qualifiers in the coming days.

Sri Lanka Come Up Just Short

Sri Lanka conceded three goals in the first half but ended up making a match of it in the end against Lebanon as they lost by a 3-2 margin at the final whistle.  They took the lead after only ten minutes through Ahmed Waseem Razeek only to allow an immediate equalizer through Joan Oumari only a minute later.  Mohamad Jalal Kadouh gave them the lead on seventeen minutes and Oumari would get his second before halftime.  Razeek would pull one back for Sri Lanka from the spot on 51 minutes, but they would get no closer, leaving them still without points in the group.  The two goals from Razeek were the first in qualifying for the side but the three goals surrendered brought their total to eighteen for a -16 goal differential.

Team News

South Korea

Hwang Ui-jo's brace was a big factor in Saturday night's victory.  Photo courtesy of FIFA.
There were calls for Paulo Bento to step down as manager of the men's national team following the poor performance against Japan in March and despite a good showing against Turkmenistan, there are still two matches remaining to decide who finishes top of Group H as Korea and Lebanon are level on points.  Korea continues to maintain a spotless defensive record not having surrendered a single goal to this point in qualifying also meaning that their goal difference is vastly superior to their last opponents in this section, however, that is no guarantee that there may not be a bump in the road in the near future.

Korea's second half in particular showed quite a bit of flair and Hwang Ui-jo bagging a brace will do well for his confidence.  There has been some speculation in recent days he may even be called into the Olympic team as a senior player.  That would definitely increase Korea's chances of securing a medal and would ease the defeat in Yokohama if that did turn out to be the case.  Even though he did not register on the score sheet, Son Heung-min was instrumental in the win, with his free kick slotted home off a rebound for Kwon Chang-hoon to net Korea's fourth and his controlled flick opened up space on the left for Kwon who found Hwang in the box to tap in for Korea's fifth.

With qualifying looking to become a lot more difficult in the next phase, Bento's men will have to perform on a similar level but with more consistency, if they are to secure a spot in Qatar, which would be their tenth consecutive finals, having qualified for every tournament since 1986.

Sri Lanka

Ahmed Waseem Razeek scored a pair of goals for Sri Lanka against Lebanon but it was the Cedars who would take the points on the day.  Photo courtesy of AFC
There is nothing to expect from Sri Lanka in their final match of the campaign.  They have failed to secure a single point and the pair of goals from Ahmed Waseem Razeek were the only two goals the team has scored in this qualifying cycle.  They will be playing solely for pride.  They can only hope to keep the deficit in the final score as low as possible.  

If Korea plays the way they did against Turkmenistan, there is little to no chance of a surprise occurring.  In their previous meeting on October 10th, 2019, they shipped eight goals with Son Heung-min scoring twice, Kim Shin-wook finding the net four times, and Hwang Hee-chan and Kwon Chang-hoon adding singles.

What to Watch

Can South Korea Build on Their Momentum?

Korea celebrates scoring against Turkmenistan.  Photo courtesy of FIFA
Not only was the result against Turkmenistan convincing, but it was also a positive team performance overall.  It helped that they were able to take an early lead and did not get discouraged when failing to find the net after creating a slew of goal scoring chances in the first half before Nam Tae-hee was finally able to breach Charyyev for the second goal.

If Korea can manage to get out to a quick start once again, it could open the floodgates once again as was the case in the previous match.  The European-based players in the squad played very well, considering that they had just finished long seasons on the Old Continent but it also has to be taken into consideration that the K League is in the thick of its season as well.  Playing at home and with fans in the stands is a definite advantage.  All of those factors point to another strong showing on Wednesday night.

Who to Watch

Kwon Chang-hoon - South Korea

Kwon Chang-hoon had a turbulent season with SC Freiburg, making only twelve appearances for the club.  He missed time due to a positive COVID test and was also sidelined with a knee injury for much of the season.  He will now make the switch back to the K League with Suwon Samsung Bluewings and playing at home now could have a significant impact on his national team career.  

He played all ninety minutes against Turkmenistan, registering a goal and an assist, bringing his goal tally to six overall.  It was his first appearance with the national team since he came on as a substitute in a 3-0 friendly loss to Brazil in November 2019.  If Korea are to qualify for Qatar, he will be a central figure in that regard.  Coming home to resume his football career is a smart move at this point because it will give him an opportunity for regular first team football, meaning he can become more of a constant in Paulo Bento's plans.  Suwon is also right in the thick of the title race this year and he will certainly be a huge addition to Park Kun-ha's squad.

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