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South Korea Ready for Vietnam Following Opening Match Win

Defending champions South Korea opened the defense of their title with a convincing 4-1 win over Malaysia in their opening match, thanks in large part to a second half brace from Cho Young-wook.  Vietnam, meanwhile, had to settle for a share of the points against Thailand after conceding an equalizer in the first minute of second half injury time.  The Taeguk Warriors will likely book their place in the knockout phase of the competition with a win.  KLU's Branko Belan looks ahead to the match.
(Photo Credit: AFC)


Cho Young-wook the Difference Maker

Just when it seemed that Malaysia might be able to creep back into the match in the final minutes, up stepped the FC Seoul man to score a pair of goals, four minutes apart to give his country a three goal margin of victory at the final whistle.  He came on as a substitute in the 66th minute and immediately made an impact, giving South Korea pace on the wing.  His first goal saw him stay onside while receiving a pass from fellow second half substitute Oh Se-hun, and he swept the ball home past Malaysian 'keeper Rahadiazli Rahalim.  He was on the scoresheet once again with time winding down as he sent the ball into the net from a tight angle after being played in by Kim Tae-hwan, who also scored the second goal of the match, a sizzler from just outside the box following a corner.

Will his success against Malaysia convince Hwang Sun-hong to give him a start against Vietnam?  It certainly should, as he altered Korea's offensive dynamic, making them more threatening in spaces as the opposing players began to tire towards the end of the match.  So far in fourteen matches at club level, he registered two goals and two assists and has been a regular starter for the majority of the time.  If he has had any detractors at any point this season, they will have certainly taken notice of his exploits in the opening win.

Honors Abound For Lee Sang-min

Chungnam Asan's Lee Sang-min was given the privilege of wearing the captain's armband for the opening match and repaid that faith by scoring the first goal of the encounter with a header from Lee Kang-in's corner on 31 minutes.  For him, it was the culmination of a lot of things, after he had experienced some hardship away from the pitch that caused him to be suspended for a lengthy period of time due to conduct detrimental to his team.

The rate he has matured at since his return has been nothing short of remarkable.  He has always been known for his football acumen, knowing where to be on the pitch, and how to best assess the needs of his teammates around him.  Prior to his club's last match at the end of May against Jeonnam Dragons, Lee had played every single minute of every single match in 2022, outlining perfectly his importance to his squad.  His performance against Malaysia was more than satisfactory, although he did have a slight hand in conceding the goal which cut Korea's lead in half with less than ten minutes to play, but overall, he should be counted on as a regular player for his country at this tournament.


Lee Kang-in Key to Opening Victory

Lee Kang-in had a hand in the first two goals of the match as his corners were slammed into the back of the net to give South Korea a commanding presence in the match.  Overall, he played extremely well and stated his early case to be one of the players to look out for at this tournament.  He won the Golden Ball as the best player at the U-20 World Cup in Poland, where his side made it all the way to the final, only to lose to Ukraine.

Since then, there has been talk about his development through the years but he has faced setbacks along his path as well.  Should he be able to produce a strong performance in Uzbekistan, it could mean more minutes at club level for La Liga side RCD Mallorca.  He needs a good tournament to restore confidence in himself.  If his performance in the opening win serves as an indicator, he is certainly off to a good start.

Lee was pleased with the result at the end of the match.

"We worked as a team against a tough opponent and that's why we were able to achieve a good result. This is just the first match and we’re aiming to improve as we move forward in the competition. There are some new players in the squad and we will work together to achieve a similar result in the next match," he began.

"I’m really happy that I contributed to the team’s first victory. It will be great if I can continue playing at this level with the team.  I tried to enjoy my football with my teammates as I think that is the most important value a player can bring to his team. I’m always trying to focus on myself and to perform better in every game," he finished.

Can Vietnam Rebound?

Vietnam had three points in their pockets with just minutes to play, but they had to settle for a share of the spoils against Thailand following a late equalizer.  They realize that the match with Korea is a potential must-win, as there is a good inclination that Thailand may well take all three points against Malaysia in their next match.

Despite what some may think, this will be a difficult test for South Korea.  Vietnam scored in the very first minute against Thailand, and, should they again spring an early surprise against the defending champions, it will definitely put an entirely different complexion on the match, so focus for both teams will be a key point to success. 

Despite the result in the first match, coach Gong Oh-kyun praised the work rate and determination of his players.

"The players performed well and tried their best, which is more important than the points.  Despite the fact that we didn’t have enough training, they gave their all and I’m proud of them. We had a few players with some issues, but despite that, the others tried their best. We had a plan so I just trusted them to accomplish it, and I’m proud of them for that," he commented after the match

The match between South Korea and Vietnam will be played on Sunday June 5th at 6 PM local time at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Tashkent.

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