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Olympic Starlets New Zealand Opener


Kim Hak-beom's South Korean Men's Olympic side kick off their long-awaited Tokyo 2020 campaign in Kashima on Thursday against New Zealand. With games against Honduras and Romania to come, how key will this fixture against Oceania's sole entrants effect Korea in terms of progression from the group stages?

New Zealand Men Vs. South Korea Men - Thursday July 22nd (17:00 KST)

Tournament Preparation

Head Coach Kim oversees training (Photo Credit - Yonhap News)
Kim Hak-beom has chopped and changed his Olympic squad quite considerably over the past few months, cutting down to a to a final 22-man squad predominantly consisting of K League talent. Lee Sang-min is the latest squad arrival, but the Seoul E-Land defender is far from an outsider or after-thought in Kim's setup, key in their 2020 Thailand triumph. A double of friendly victories over Ghana on Jeju Island in June set the tone for a very promising group, which came back to the mainland to face Argentina and France's Olympic squad recording a draw and narrow 2-1 defeat respectively.

OlyWhites Weapons

With New Zealand boasting Premier League powerhouse Chris Wood up front, it's likely that  Korea's back line and especially giant defender Jeong Tae-wook will kept on their toes. Still in his twenties despite appearing in the Premier League as far back as 2009, Wood's second Olympic campaign sees him as one of the three wildcard choices of boss Danny Hay, who will take charge in Japan. Hay actually appeared against Korea in the 1997 Optus World Series, a game which Korea won 3-1 with Park Kun-ha and Yoo Sang-chul on the score sheet. 



Liberato Cacace, teammate of Lee Seung-woo at multinational Belgian outfit Sint-Truidense, is another potential danger that Kim Hak-beom will be fully aware of. Breaking into the A-League in 2018, the 20-year-old left wing back is set to have a fascinating battle with Jung Seung-won, Eom Won-sang or Lee Dong-jun down Korea's right-hand side. Playing left back in a flat back four and making 27 appearances in the Belgian top tier, even at 20 Cacace stands out as one of New Zealand's most experienced heads in the dressing room.

Korea's Key Men

Korea's squad boasts some undoubted young talent who could push their profile further onto the global stage with a good tournament. Players such as Song Min-kyu and Won Du-jae, who have demonstrated their value on a domestic level this season, will garner the attention their recent performances in their club shirts deserve. I've picked out two players who may be key against New Zealand for the Taeguk Warriors to start the tournament with three points.

Song Bum-keun

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors goalkeeper has an incredible amount of experience for a 23-year-old, acting as first choice for the K League champions for the past four seasons. K League's answer to Gianluigi Donnarumma, Song is also well-versed in tournament football having collected gold medals at both the 2018 Asian Games and 2020 U23 Asian Cup. One of the best in the division for claiming balls in the air this season, Song also has the fourth highest save percentage. Starting in Korea's final warm-up fixture against France, it seems likely that Song is Kim Hak-beom's first choice keeper. However, he will be keen to erase the memory of his mistake that led to France's second goal with a good early performance here.

Lee Kang-in

Undoubtedly Korea's biggest name on the international stage, Korea need Lee to showcase his ability from the off against New Zealand and set a standard of front-foot football for the group stages and beyond. In the France friendly we saw the ebb and flow of confidence gained by periods of attacking play and Lee is the man who can control the pace of the game from the centre of the park, winning free kicks under pressure and trusting his close control to get Korea out of trouble. Whether it's collecting the ball further back from Won Du-jae and distributing to the wingers, or quick interplay with the likes of Kwon Chang-hoon to find a breakthrough, Lee is likely to be at the heart of Korea's best moves on Thursday.

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