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South Korea Look to Rebound Against Thailand

After having to settle for just a point against Vietnam, South Korea face Thailand in their final group match on Tuesday night needing to win to guarantee passage to the knockout phase of this year's U-23 Asian Cup.  Hwang Sun-hong needs to realize the gravity of the moment and go with his best eleven - there is no room for calculation.  KLU's Branko Belan previews the all-important encounter.
(Photo Credit: AFC)


Starting Eleven Considerations

Both Oh Se-hun and Cho Young-wook have started the first two matches on the bench for South Korea at this year's tournament, and the question is - why?  Jeong Sang-bin, while talented as he is, has not proven to be a match-winner thus far.  The defending champions will need to start fast against Thailand, and the only way to do that is to have a proven goal scorer up top.  Oh Se-hun was a member of Kim Hak-bum's squad that won the title two years ago in Thailand and should be trusted to get the job done in the final third.  He has the size, frame, and finishing ability that Korea needs to take all three points on Wednesday night.  Hwang Sun-hong's inconsonance to this end could have the title holders on the outside looking in come the final whistle if he doesn't right the ship in time.

Lee Kang-in missed the match against Vietnam due to a muscle injury and is questionable for the match against Thailand.  He was counted on to be a big presence for the U-23 squad coming into the tournament, and surely held up his end of the deal in the 4-1 victory over Malaysia with a pair of assists and an overall stellar performance.  Should he be unable to play, Korea may lack the creative presence in midfield to unlock a feisty Thai side who will be eyeing the knockout stages themselves after a confident performance against Malaysia last time out.  


Possession Doesn't Always Equate to Victory

Despite having seventy percent of possession and twenty-four total shots, of which only five were on target, South Korea looked flimsy in the closing stages of the match, referenced by Vũ Tiến Long's 83rd minute equalizer just five minutes after Lee Jin-yong was sent off for a second bookable offence.  In order to get a result against Thailand that will see them progress to the next phase of the competition, South Korea need to use the ball better up the pitch and create space for their target men to pressure the Thai back line.  The possession thus far has been stationary and predictable - Vietnam did defend well, but it's mostly because they were able to telegraph in advance what was coming at them, and had no major issues in dealing with Korea's forays into the final third.

Kim Hak-bum was criticized at times for his managerial style but he did something no other manager at this level has done - he won this competition at his time of asking, something that Hwang Sun-hong will be hard-pressed to match if he doesn't play his cards right.  He has no excuses not to succeed.  He has a talented squad, but does he know how to best use his players to his advantage?  He has a chance to prove it when his side takes the pitch on Wednesday night.

Thailand Bursting With Confidence

Thailand come into the match with South Korea on the heels of a 3-0 thumping of Malaysia, courtesy in large part to a brace from Suphanat Mueanta, who has now scored three goals in the tournament, including the last gasp equalizer against Vietnam on the first matchday.  Their match against Malaysia was statistically balanced for the most part, but what they did well was take their chances.  If they stick to the same 4-4-1-1 formation they employed last time out, they could potentially frustrate South Korea enough in possession and look for their chances on the counter-attack.  

The side hasn't performed favorably this year, losing to Vietnam in the final of this year's AFF Cup, and losing all three of their matches at the Dubai Cup back in March.  They also lost the final match against Vietnam at the Southeast Asian Games, but are currently on a good spell of momentum and should not be taken lightly.  They have shown themselves to be quick, resilient, and deadly in front of goal.  Having bowed out at the quarterfinal stage at the tournament they hosted two years ago, they will want to better their record in that regard, but they will have to get past the defending champions to do it. 

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