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scouting

South Korea Look to Start Quickly Against Iraq

South Korea will get its final qualifying round underway on Thursday night as they welcome Iraq to the World Cup Stadium in Seoul.  Paulo Bento's men finished second round play with a record of five wins and a draw, scoring 22 goals while only conceding once.  Iraq finished second behind Iran in their qualifying group, with the rivals separated by only a point.  KLU's Branko Belan looks ahead to the match.
(Photo courtesy of AFC)


Match: South Korea vs Iraq
Venue: Seoul World Cup Stadium
Kickoff: Thursday September 2nd, 2021; 20:00 KST

Recent Form

Goals for Confidence as South Korea Closes Out Second Round.

South Korea scored twelve goals in their final three matches in the second round, with identical 5-0 victories over Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka before edging out Lebanon by a score of 2-1 in the final match of the group.  They started a bit slowly from the outset but were able to pad their goal differential down the stretch.  The third round will be a much different test, however, and one of the main concerns will be who will emerge as a consistent goal threat up front.

Paulo Bento's tactics have been deemed to be too much on the defensive side and the hope is that he will be willing to take a few more chances in order to try to finish out matches earlier rather than waiting until late on to seal points against their upcoming opponents.  Every match in this group is going to be tough and there is very little room for error.  South Korea have qualified for every World Cup since 1986 and would love nothing more than to keep that record intact but the production will have to be taken up a notch if they are to make that a reality.

Iraq Hoping to Start Strongly

Iraq won two of their final three second round qualifiers against Cambodia and Hong Kong before losing their final match of the round against arch-rivals Iran, and with the loss, they relinquished first place in Group C.  As a team, they scored fourteen goals in eight matches but only allowed four, so they may not have the offensive firepower to threaten teams but will be a difficult team to break down.

Dutchman Dick Advocaat is the current manager of the national team, so South Korea will be challenged by a veteran football mind.  There are a few key veterans in the side but most of the players are in their early to mid-twenties.  They are a team capable of playing with robust energy, so they should not be taken lightly, as their one loss record from the second round is to suggest.

Team News

South Korea

The September callup list sees a bit of change from previous cycles, as Pohang Steelers pair Kang Sang-woo and Song Min-kyu have an opportunity to better acquaint themselves with the senior set-up.  Song was picked for the Olympic squad but did not see as much action as expected, so this could be a full turn to the senior national team for the foreseeable future.  Kang has been considered as potentially a solution at right back, although Lee Yong is also in the side.

Could Kang Sang-woo be the future for South Korea at right back?
Admittedly a bit of a surprise, Won Du-jae was not selected for this month's qualifiers after also playing at the Olympics in Tokyo.  He should be up for consideration in October and November, however.  Jung Woo-young has had to be replaced in the squad due to COVID protocol as there was a confirmed case on a recent flight he was on, so he will be in quarantine for a period of two weeks and will be replaced in the team by Ju Se-jong.

Cho Gue-sung has been called to the senior national team as well.  Bento recently commented that he sees Cho as part of the senior national team setup and wants to start bringing him along by giving him exposure with more experienced players.  Whether he will see minutes in the first two third round qualifying matches remains to be seen but he will definitely be able to use it as a learning opportunity. 

Iraq

Iraq will be leaning on their veteran players to guide them through the first few qualifiers but they have more than several players who have gained considerable experience in recent years.  Captain Alaa Abdul Zahra is the most-capped player in the team with 122 appearances as well as current joint-top scorer with seventeen goals.

Defender Ahmed Ibrahim is the only other player to reach the century mark for Iraq and he is one of the keys to their back line.  At 29 years of age, he has been around the game long enough to understand the significance of what lies ahead - Iraq have only qualified once for a World Cup, back in 1986 in Mexico.  Could this be the team to put them over the line a second time?

Mohanad Ali is potentially out for Iraq.  Photo courtesy of AFC.
A point of concern, however, is the status of young attacker Mohanad Ali, who left Iraq's camp temporarily to negotiate a contract move to Europe.  He will have to quarantine until Wednesday afternoon and his status for the match on Thursday night is still uncertain.

What to Watch

Will Korea Start Quickly or Play the Waiting Game?

 There are a lot of things to be taken into consideration ahead of the match with Iraq.  The starting eleven selection will directly impact how South Korea not only opens the match but how they approach the intervals as well.  To put themselves in a better position, it would be ideal to get a first goal into their account before the halftime whistle.  With home field advantage at their disposal, this is an opportunity not to be spurned.

Having said that, Bento will most likely turn to experienced Hwang Ui-jo up front to start the match but there is also the possibility of Cho Gue-sung seeing his first action as a senior player as well.  The service up top will be key to the team's chances of coming away with all three points, so execution in the final third is a must.

Who to Watch

Kim Min-jae - South Korea

Kim Min-jae signed with Fenerbahce recently and can now get back to focusing on football.  Photo courtesy of AFC.
The whirlwind that was Kim Min-jae's transfer saga finally reached its conclusion with his move to Fenerbahce in Turkey following months of speculation regarding a move away from Beijing Guoan.  He is elated with his new surroundings and the fans have taken to him immediately which will allow hime to do something he has been wanting to do for quite some time now - focus on playing football.

His return to the national team is a welcome sight.  He missed the friendly match against Japan in March because of a foot injury and was also kept out due to a card suspension against Lebanon in the final round two qualifier in June.

Despite being only 24 years old, he has quickly established himself as the main presence in the center of the South Korean defense, and with his club situation now sorted, he'll be ready to get his country off to a winning start on Thursday night.
 
FNR

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