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Tokyo Olympics Men's Football Group B Preview

It was only a year ago when South Korea won the AFC U-23 tournament in Thailand for the very first time, clinching a berth in Tokyo in the process.  On paper, it is an extremely talented collection of players but the question remains as to how they will stack up against the best sides from around the world this summer.  The Taeguk Warriors are in Group B alongside New Zealand, Romania, and Honduras.  Can Kim Hak-bum's men finish among the medals?  KLU's Branko Belan looks at what to expect.
(Photo courtesy of Goal.com)

Teams

New Zealand

Korea Republic

Honduras

Romania

New Zealand

Chris Wood is New Zealand's number one target man. Photo courtesy of New Zealand Football Federation.

How They Qualified

New Zealand booked their ticket to the Tokyo Games as OFC Champions, their fourth such honor, sweeping away their competition in winning all five of their matches and compiling a goal record of 33 for and only four against.  There will be a sense of vengeance as they were disqualified from the last Olympics in Rio after they fielded an ineligible player in their qualifying match against Vanuatu.  They may be considered outsiders in the group but are no reason to be taken lightly.  The Kiwi spirit is as high as ever and they are capable of pulling off a shock for those who fail to take them seriously.

Key Player

Chris Wood

One of the overage selections in the squad, Wood has impressed in the English Premier League for the past several seasons, hitting double digits in goals for Burnley four years running and is New Zealand's second leading goal scorer with 24 on his account.  He's been on this stage before, scoring in the group stage against Egypt at the Games in London in 2012.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Michael Woud (Almere City), Jamie Searle (Swansea City), Alex Paulsen (Wellington Pheonix)

Defenders: Michael Boxall (Minnesota United), Liberato Cacace (Sint-Truden), Callan Elliot (Xanthi), Dane Ingham (Newcastle Jets), Nando Pijnaker (Rio Ave), Winston Reid (Brentford), George Stanger (Hamilton Academical), Sam Sutton (Wellington Pheonix)

Midfielders: Joe Bell (Viking), Clayton Lewis (Wellington Phoenix), Marko Stamenic (Copenhagen), Gianni Stensness (Central Coast Mariners), Ben Old (Wellington Pheonix)

Forwards: Joe Champness (Newcastle Jets), Elijah Just (Helsingor), Callum McCowatt (Helsingor), Ben Waine (Wellington Pheonix), Chris Wood (Burnley), Matthew Garbett (Falkenbergs FF)


South Korea

South Korea captured its first AFC U-23 title last year in Thailand to qualify outright for the Olympics. Photo courtesy of AFC.
How They Qualified

South Korea qualified for these Olympic Games as winners of the AFC U-23 Championship in Thailand last year, the first time they have accomplished the feat.  Jeong Tae-wook's header in extra time against Saudi Arabia put a seal on a perfect run for Kim Hak-bum's men as they lifted the trophy and booked their place in convincing fashion at this summer's Olympiad.  They will be looking to regroup in a sense as they lost their last friendly against France but with an extremely talented group, they should be counted among the factors for a medal with the tournament to kick off in just a few days time.

Key Player

Lee Sang-min

The 23 year old central defender has featured prominently for his club Seoul E-Land in K League 2 this season and was a key component to South Korea's success in capturing their first ever continental title in Thailand last year.  He has worked his way through the youth ranks of Korean football and is looked at positively as a future senior squad candidate.  He'll need to be a presence in the center of the pitch not only to command Korea's defensive structure but to contribute to the attack as well.


Squad

Goalkeepers: Song Bum-keun (Jeonbuk), Ahn Joon-soo (Busan IPark), An Chan-gi (Suwon Samsung Bluewings)

Defenders: Lee Yoo-hyeon (Jeonbuk), Kim Jae-woo (Daegu FC), Lee Ji-sol (Daejeon Hana Citizen), Jeong Tae-wook (Daegu FC), Seol Young-woo (Ulsan Hyundai), Kim Jin-ya (FC Seoul), Kang Yoon-sung (Jeju United), Lee Sang-min (Seoul E-Land)

Midfielders: Jeong Seung-won (Daegu FC), Lee Kang-in (Valencia), Lee Dong-gyeong (Ulsan Hyundai), Kim Dong-hyun (Gangwon FC), Won Du-jae (Ulsan Hyundai), Kim Jin-kyu (Busan IPark)

Forwards: Kwon Chang-hoon (Suwon Samsung Bluewings), Song Min-kyu (Jeonbuk), Lee Dong-jun (Ulsan Hyundai), Hwang Ui-jo (Bordeaux), Eom Won-sang (Gwangju FC)

Honduras

Rigoberto Rivas will be one to watch for Honduras. Photo courtesy of Futbol Centro America.

How They Qualified

Honduras battled through the final round of qualifying by defeating Haiti by a score of 3-0 and then snatching consecutive draws against El Salvador and Canada before knocking off the United States in the semi-final 2-1.  Drama would ensue as they fell short on penalties to Mexico in the final in a match that finished 1-1 after ninety minutes but still qualified them for the Summer Games by virtue of their finals appearance.  This will be their fifth time to play at an Olympic Games having been present in Sydney in 2000, Beijing in 2008, London in 2012, and Rio de Janeiro in 2016.  Their best ever finish was fourth at the last Games in Brazil.

Key Player

Rigoberto Rivas

The 22 year old midfielder currently plying his trade in Italy with Reggina will be a key man if Honduras want to progress to the knockout stages once again.  His creativity will be a factor in the attacking phase for La Bicolor Olimpica as they look to be among the favorites to make a deep run into the tournament.  Primarily a right winger, he is also capable of slotting in as an attacker in the offensive third and can manage the midfield as well.  He has five goals and three assists on his account thus far this season at club level, and will be one to watch out for in Tokyo.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Alex Guity (Olimpia), Michael Perrelo (Real España), Bryan Ramos (Real España)

Defenders: Christopher Melendez (Motagua), Carlos Melendez (Motagua), Wesley Decas (Motagua), Elvin Casildo (Olimpia), Denil Maldonado (Pachuca)

Midfielders: Jonathan Nunez (Motagua), Jose Mario Pinto (Olimpia), Edwin Rodriguez (Olimpia), Jorge Alvarez (Olimpia), Carlos Pineda (Olimpia), Alejandro Reyes (Real España), Rigoberto Rivas (Reggina), Brayan Moya (Primeiro de Agusto)

Forwards: Luis Palma (Vida), Samuel Elvir (Lobos UPNFM), Jorge Benguche (Olimpia), Douglas Martinez (Real Salt Lake), Juan Carlos Obregon (Hartford Athletic)

Romania

Can Andrei Ciobanu help Romania create a surprise in Tokyo? Photo courtesy of Digi Sport

How They Qualified

Romania have qualified for their first Olympic football tournament since 1964 - the last time the Games were held in Tokyo.  Mirel Rădoi knows he will have his hands full but his side did win their qualification group for the tournament, edging out France to top the section but fell to Germany at the semi-final stage.  They could be a wild card but will have to earn it every step of the way.

Key Player

Andrei Ciobanu

He will be an instrumental piece in the middle of the park if Romania are indeed going to stand a chance of pulling off a shock and getting out of the group.  The 23 year old has worked his way up the ranks of the Romanian youth system, starring prominently for the U-21 side, where he made nineteen appearances, scoring three goals.  He is touted as an up and coming prospect and could find a place in the senior national team in the near future should he present a strong performance in Tokyo.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Mihai Aioani (Farul Constanta), Mihai Popa (Astra Giurgiu), Stefan Tarnovanu (FCSB)

Defenders: Radu Boboc (Farul Constanta), Andrei Chindris (Botosani), Virgil Ghita (Farul Constanta), Ricardo Grigore (Dinamo Bucuresti), Alex Pascanu (Ponferradina), Andrei Ratiu (Villareal), Florin Stefan (Sepsi OSK)

Midfielders: Dragos Nedelcu (FCSB), Tudor Baluta (Brighton & Hove Albion), Marco Dulca (Chindia Targoviste), Marius Marin (Pisa), Andrei Ciobanu (Farul Constanta), Eduard Florescu (Botosani), Ion Gheorghe (Voluntari), Alex Dobre (Dijon), Valentin Gheorghe (Astra Giurgiu), Antonio Sefer (Rapid Bucuresti)

Forwards: George Ganea (Farul Constanta), Andrei Sintean (Hermannstadt)

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