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World Cup Asian Qualification Preview: China vs. South Korea

After a 5-0 win over Singapore on Thursday, South Korea travel to Shenzhen to take on China. China also won last time out and so both will be looking to make it two wins from two.
(Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

Overview & Match Information

Fixture: China vs. South Korea
Competition: FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers, Group C
Date: Tuesday 21st November 2023, 21:00 KST
Venue: Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre, Shenzhen, China

Recent Form

South Korea head to China on the back of four straight wins with four goals or more and with five straight cleansheets. On Thursday in Seoul, Jurgen Klinsmann's men ran out 5-0 winners of Singapore to get their World Cup qualification campaign up and running. It could have been more than five but Lee Jae-sung's 23rd-minute effort from close range was incorrectly disallowed for offside and Cho Gue-sung, who provided what would have been an assist for Lee had the goal stood, hit the crossbar a bit later into the first half. Cho Gue-sung, Hwang Hee-chan, Son Heung-min, Hwang Ui-jo, and Lee Kang in were on the scoresheet for Korea.

China also picked up a win on Thursday, earning a 2-1 victory away to Thailand. Aleksandar Janković's men had to come from behind to earn the win with BG Pathum United midfielder Sarach Yooyen putting Thailand in front on 23 minutes. Wu Lei levelled just six minutes later; Wang Sangyuan found what proved to be the winner on 74 minutes. The result gave China a second win in give matches.

Team News

One alteration from the original squad named by Jurgen Klinsmann is that midfielder Hong Hyun-seok is out through injury with Jeonbuk's Park Jin-seob his replacement. Park can play as a central midfielder, a holding midfielder, or a centre back and so his versatility will be useful for Jurgen Klinsmann. Son Heung-min has declared himself fit after appearing to have picked up a knock against Singapore on Thursday. 

 (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

In terms of K League representation, Park Jin-seob's inclusion makes 10 players. In the win over Singapore, three started (Lee Ki-je, Seol Young-woo, and Jung Seung-hyun) and two came off the bench (Kim Jin-su and Lee Soon-min).

For China, Ai Kesen (Elkeson) is not involved despite the Brazilian-born striker keeping his Chinese nationality after returning to Brazil. He was called up for the friendly against Uzbekistan in October. Jiang Guangtai (Tyias Browning) is out due to a knee injury, Xu Haofeng of Shenzen FC is his replacement. 

Beijing Guoan striker Zhang Yuning has been called into the squad despite only recently recovering from a knee injury and playing just three times off the bench in the CSL this season. As for the other naturalised players, Li Ke (Nico Yennaris) is in. Ricardo Goulart (Gao Late) has now retired but had already applied to renounce his Chinese nationality, as too Roberto Siucho Neira (Xiao Taotao).


Korea have won the last three meetings against China, the most recent being a 3-0 victory in the 2022 EAFF E-1 Championship.  In World Cup Asian qualifying, the two teams met in 2016 and 2017 with Korea recording a 3-2 home win in September 2016 and losing 1-0 away in March 2017. Overall, there have been 24 meetings between the two countries with Korea winning 176, China winning just two, and 10 draws. 

What to Watch

Korea's route to goal 

It was clear in the game against Singapore that Korea were looking to get crosses into the box and make the most of Cho Gue-sung's physical presence and aerial ability. Korea attempted 37 crosses and 17 of which were successful. This was much more than in any other game under Klinsmann; against Vietnam, it was 20 (7 successful), Tunisia 15 (3), Saudi Arabia nine (4), and Wales 12 (1) when looking at the last five matches. The average height of the four central defenders that featured for Singapore on Thursday was 6 foot, Baharudin the smallest at 5'11". Cho Gue-sung at 6'2" was always going to be backed to win headers and won five of his 12 aerial duels. The average height of China's back four is a touch taller at 6'2" meaning Korea might not have the same luck when it comes to aerial duels.

 (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

China, though, won't be as compact as Singapore, certainly not at home and after winning on Thursday, and will look to attack Korea so the Taeguk Warriors might have more space through the middle. Kim Min-jae, who connected with every single one of his pass to the final third against Singapore, should have more space when stepping out from the back. In terms of midfielders, Hwang In-beom is third so far for accuracy of passes to the final third with 75%. The former Daejeon and FC Seoul man is ninth for total passes made with 86.

Tactically, Jurgen Klinsmann went for a 4-4-1-1 with Son Heung-min as the "one" behind Cho Gue-sung up front. When Cho went off and was replaced by Hwang Ui-jo on 64 minutes, the shape stayed the same but not for long as on 70 minutes the formation became a 5-4-1 with Son as a central midfielder, Lee Kang-in as a left wing-back and Kim Jin-su as a left-sided centre back in a three. It's worth noting, though, that Korea scored three goals during this spell.

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The Opposition - China

(Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images)

Whether FIFA rankings or something to be taken seriously or not is a debate for another time but China are currently ranked 79th in the world, 11th in Asia. China haven't made it to a World Cup since 2002 in Japan and South Korea for what is, to date, their only appearance. They finished bottom of C with Brazil, Turkey, and Costa Rica. The team is currently coached by 51-year-old Serbian Aleksandar Janković who's been in charge since 2022. He played in the lower leagues in France and has coached Red Star Belgrade and Standard Liege, among others. He has overseen nine matches as manager of China, winning four, drawing two, and losing three. 

William Bi, Chinese sports consultant has more on what to expect

What can we expect tactically from China? What's the manager's style of play?

While the China national football team is not traditionally associated with attacking football, their current strategy, marked by a historically low player quality, is overwhelmingly defensive-minded and tedious. 

Will we see the Brazilians who became Chinese citizens return to the national team picture or is the CFA looking to take a different route this time?

No, their time has gone. Elkeson, the only one of them still in the Chinese league having reached the age of 34, has regressed to an average player even in Chinese football terms. That's the reason he is not called into the squad this time. 

What are the expectations heading into the game with Korea?

The expectation of the Chinese public is unprecedentedly low. Even prior to the away match against Thailand, China was seen as an underdog. The away victory is an unexpected achievement. In terms of the match of South Korea, one point is beyond any mild imagination. A dignified failure is the best scenario that people are hoping for. 

Who to Watch

Lee Kang-in, South Korea

All in all, it was a very productive evening for Paris Saint-Germain attacking midfielder Lee Kang-in, scoring one and assisting one. Lee sent in a perfectly weighted, teasing ball through to Cho Gue-sung to break the deadlock on 44 minutes; his goal was perhaps even better, firing in left footed from the edge of the box to make it 5-0. He showed 71% accuracy for passes to the final third, 76% for forward passes, and four key passes. The 22-year-old looks to be one of the players that Jurgen Klinsmann builds his team around throughout this World Cup qualification cycle and indeed at the Asian Cup next year. Klinsmann had plenty of praise for Lee Kang-in after the Singapore win and said that the growth his shown as a player this last six months has been a "joy." The onus is now on Lee Kang-in to be consistent and be undroppable for the national team.

Wu Lei, China

(Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images)

Wu Lei, the 32-year-old forward who is now back in China following a three-year stint with Espanyol in La Liga, scored his 33rd goal for his country in the 2-1 win over Thailand last time out. Sliding in at the back post, Wu Lei got on the end of a teasing ball across from the left by Wei Shihao to convert from a little over a yard out. It was his 33rd goal for China on his 88th cap. His record in World Cup qualification is more or less a goal every other game (33 apps, 16 goals). He had been deployed as a right winger in the loss to Uzbekistan in the previous game but moved up front in a two for the game against Thailand, a decision that paid off. 

K League Player to Watch

Jung Seung-hyun, Ulsan Hyundai

Jung Seung-hyun will be just as important as Kim Min-jae when it comes to Korea's build-up play and stepping out from the back. Against Singapore, Jung was successful in 64 of his 68 attempted actions (94%), showing a passing accuracy of 93%, long passing accuracy of 80% (4/5), won all of his nine duels, all five of his aerial duels, all three of his defensive duels, and made two interceptions. Jung probably won't be as dominant against China but much like his Ulsan teammate Seol Young-woo at right back, that centre back slot to the right of Kim Min-jae appears to be up for grabs.


Even being away from home Korea should win this one and score a few goals in the process. 3-1 win.

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