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World Cup Qualifiers Preview: South Korea v Lebanon

South Korea are already through to the next round, but after feeling the heat from the South Korean media following a friendly loss to Japan, Taeguk Warriors boss Paulo Bento will be looking to finish the second round of World Cup qualifying on a high. Lebanon lost their last match to Turkmenistan, and need to get a positive result against South Korea or they could risk missing out on the third round. (Image via the-afc.com)

Steve Price with the preview

Finally Finding Form

After just three games in 18 months, there was a risk that South Korea would come into this month's games looking rusty. Instead, South Korea blew Turkmenistan away with some one-touch attacking play. The five-nil win for South Korea actually flattered Turkmenistan, whose goalkeeper saved several one-on-ones. In total, South Korea had 16 shots on target, and hit the woodwork once or twice too. Hwang Ui-jo got a brace and missed several good chances too. Nam Tae-hee, Kwon Chang-hoon and Kim Young-gwon were also on the scoresheet.

Son Heung-min couldn't add to his international goal tally, and he didn't get the chance against Sri Lanka. Son was on the bench for that match, with Shanghai Shenhua targetman Kim Shin-wook captaining the side instead.

Kim Shin-wook didn't take long to make his mark on the game, scoring twice in the first half with Lee Dong-gyeong scoring in-between.

Hwang Hee-chan got the fourth before Jeong Sang-bin scored on his debut to make it five-nil in a slow-paced match that saw a Sri Lanka player get booked after half-an-hour for time-wasting.

Unless Lebanon win by an almost impossible scoreline, South Korea will win Group H, and even if that unlikely scoreline did happen, South Korea would finish as one of the five best-placed runners-up, so in some respects, South Korea could treat this as a friendly match. 

But with the next round of the World Cup qualifiers kicking off in September, and the games coming thick and fast after that, Paulo Bento is more likely to select his best eleven and use this as a chance to hone Korea's skill at breaking down a defensively solid opponent, especially after rotating heavily against Sri Lanka. That practice could be crucial when they face teams of Lebanon's ability or stronger in the next round.

Two Sides of Lebanon

Lebanon lost out 3-2 to Turkmenistan on Wednesday
Lebanon frustrated South Korea in Beirut, with the two sides drawing that match 0-0. South Korea hit the bar in the second half but didn't create enough quality chances to really say they deserved more than a point from their trip.

North Korea's withdrawal from the competition then handed Lebanon a massive opportunity, with wins in their two games before this one being enough to guarantee a spot in the next round.

But the warning signs were there in Lebanon's match against Sri Lanka, where they even went behind to the minnows during the first half. Lebanon then scored three goals, all from set-pieces, before a rather fortunate penalty call allowed Sri Lanka to take the game to a grandstand finish. Unfortunately for the South Asian team, they didn't have the fitness to really push for an equalizer and the game fizzled out.

In their crucial match against Turkmenistan, Lebanon couldn't find their form. In a hectic second half they went behind before a brilliant solo run by Rabih Ataya levelled the scores. Former Ansan Greeners forward Soony Saad then blasted a 35-yarder past the Turkmenistan goalkeeper to give them the lead. But two late goals for Turkmenistan meant a shock 3-2 loss for Lebanon. 

Lebanon's biggest weakness against Turkmenistan, their reliance on individual brilliance or set-pieces, could be their trump card against South Korea though. In South Korea's first match against Lebanon, they were bombarded by long shots that Kim Seung-gyu did well to keep out, and in their two games so far in Goyang, they also tried plenty of attempts from outside the area. A backs-to-the-wall job combined with a bit of luck that one of these long shots or set-pieces goes in could be Lebanon's most likely route to a decent result against South Korea.

South Korea take on Lebanon in Goyang at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 13th

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