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South Korea Looking to Defend EAFF-E1 Crown

South Korea won the last edition of the EAFF-E1 Championship in 2019 defeating Japan in the final match; their fifth title in the competition.  This year's tournament will be held in Japan, with the hosts looking to exact a bit of revenge because of that defeat.  China and Hong Kong are the two remaining participants in this year's competition after North Korea withdrew and the final spot was determined by the FIFA rankings as of the end of March this year.  KLU's Branko Belan previews the tournament.
(Photo Credit: The Korea Times)
 

South Korea

The holders' squad is made up of domestic players, with the only exception being Gamba Osaka's Kwon Kyung-won.  Son Jun-ho of Shandong Taishan was originally selected but had to bow out due to a knee injury.  Of the three goalkeepers named in the side, Jo Hyeon-woo looks to be the likely starter, while the back line will be anchored by Kim Young-gwon with Kim Min-jae out due to injury.  The midfield is graced by the likes of Hwang In-beom and Kwon Chang-hoon, with Song Min-kyu, Paik Seung-ho, and Eom Won-sang also looking to have an impact.  FC Seoul's Kang Seong-jin could also be one to watch out for.  Cho Gue-sung and Cho Young-wook are the only two attackers, so it looks possible that Paulo Bento will play with just a solitary striker up top.

There will be some weight of expectation as the Taeguk Warriors are three-time defending champions.  Results have been up and down for Paulo Bento's men so far this year, with the side qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar by finishing second in Asian qualifying.  Friendlies last month brought mixed results as they were humbled in a 5-1 loss to Brazil, but picked up wins over Chile and Egypt while also settling for a draw against Paraguay.  Winning a sixth title at this tournament will put South Korea in a better frame of mind collectively with the World Cup now just months away.

Japan

This will be the fourth time for Japan to host the EAFF-E1 Championship, having won the tournament only once, back in 2013 when the tournament was held in South Korea.  They can be seen as perennial favorites this time around playing on home soil.  Hajime Moriyasu has said recently that it is his aim for the men's team to win the tournament and head into the World Cup with strong results and performance.  All of the players selected play in the J. League and he would also like to see the standard of the league raised as a result.

There are ten first-time selections to the twenty-six man roster, and Ryo Miyaichi returns to the national team for the first time in a decade.  Five players who played in Asian qualifying were also named, including Shogo Taniguchi and Miki Yamane of Kawasaki Frontale, and Sho Sasaki of Sanfrecce Hiroshima.  There are indications that the brunt of this squad will be heading to Qatar, so the time for the unit to develop chemistry is now.  

Several Japanese internationals made their national team debuts in this tournament in previous years, including Yuya Osako in 2013, Wataru Endo in 2015, Junya Ito in 2017, and Ao Tanaka in 2019, all of whom have become mainstays with the national team since.  Who is the next diamond in the rough for the Samurai Blue?

China

China is a two-time winner of this event, with their last title coming in 2010.  Results in recent years have left much to be desired, however, as they recorded just a single win in fourteen matches played, a 3-2 victory over Vietnam in Asian World Cup qualifying in October of last year.  This year's tournament was originally slated to be held in China last year but the venue was changed in large part due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.  Their best result in the tournament in recent years was a second place finish in 2015, which was also the last time they hosted the event.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong were included in this year's tournament after the withdrawal of North Korea due to their position in the FIFA rankings.  They will open the tournament against Japan, followed by South Korea and close out the competition against China, in what is sure to be a tense affair.  They will be led by experienced manager Jørn Andersen, who previously coached in the K League with Incheon United.  His coaching resume also includes several stops in Europe and he was also manager of the North Korean national team from 2016 to 2018.

In 2022, success has been measured, as they defeated the U-23 Thai national team in an unofficial friendly match on the 27th of May.  There were also wins in Asian World Cup qualifying over Afghanistan and Cambodia, but they did not progress past the third qualifying phase.  Goalkeeper Paulo César is the most notable name in the squad.  The Brazilian-born shot stopper plays for Kitchee SC in the Hong Kong Premier League and made his international debut against Malaysia in June.

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