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2023 AFC Asian Cup: South Korea vs. Malaysia

South Korea's last Group E match against Malaysia this Thursday is a must-win with a performance also a necessity. However, winning the group outright is no longer in Korea's hands owing to Jordan's superior goal difference. Korea, then, may need to put Malaysia to the sword.
(Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Overview & Match Information

Fixture: South Korea vs. Malaysia
Competition: 2023 AFC Asian Cup, Group E (Match 3)
Venue: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Date: Thursday 25th January 2024, 20:30 KST

South Korea take on Malaysia this Thursday in their last Group Stage match of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. Malaysia are already out having lost their first two matches but the Taeguk Warriors, currently second in Group E, can still finish top. Jurgen Klinsmann's men would need to win convincingly as a Jordan win against Bahrain would mean Korea must overcome a goal difference that is two behind that of Jordan heading into the last matches.

Should Korea win Group E then a potential Han-Il 'derby' with Japan awaits in the Round of 16. The Samurai Blue are second in Group D after losing to Iraq last time out. The situation is somewhat ironic as Korea would have perhaps wanted to avoid Japan in the Round of 16 by winning their group but in doing so they may well end up facing the rivals anyway. Should Korea finish second then they would face the winners of Group F - Thailand or Saudi Arabia. 

Recent Form 

Korea's drew 2-2 with Jordan last time out, thanks to Hwang In-beom's deflected shot in the 91st minute. Korea had found themselves 2-1 down after Son Heung-min's eighth-minute penalty after Park Yong-woo headed into his own goal while trying to defend a corner on 37 minutes before Yazan Al Naimat's well-taken shot from the edge of the box made its way into the bottom corner of Jo Hyeon-woo's goal. Korea lost all composure after the equaliser and looked flustered but improved later into the second half when chasing the equaliser and once a few adjustments were made. In the end, the point will have come as a relief but Korea will need to improve if they're going to reach the latter stages of the competition.

Malaysia were knocked out of the competition on Saturday following a 95th-minute Bahrain winner. The 1-0 loss meant it was two on the bounce in the AFC Asian Cup, having previously gone three unbeaten beforehand with World Cup qualification wins over Taiwan and Kyrgyz Republic. Malaysia's 4-0 loss to Jordan in their group opener is the heaviest of the tournament so far.

Team News

With qualification to the knockouts not yet secure, Jurgen Klinsmann has little margin for error and his team selection will reflect that. Jo Hyeon-woo will likely start in goal; the Ulsan custodian made some good saves against Jordan and apart from one instance where he gave the ball away, looked relatively assured with the ball at his feet. Full back remains a problem with Lee Ki-je playing through the pain against Jordan having picked up a hamstring problem. Sports Chosun reported on Tuesday that Lee is a major doubt with one KFA sources quoted as saying that the Suwon Bluewings left back doesn't look likely to feature.

Lee and Kim Tae-hwan (calf) both missed recovery training the day after the Jordan draw, and again on Tuesday in Lee's case. Jurgen Klinsmann has toyed with the idea of a back three and wingbacks, shifting away from the back four. Alternatively, Kim Tae-hwan could come in at right back with Seol Young-woo shifting to left back as Kim Jin-su is not expected to feature until the Round of 16 at the earliest. Hwang Hee-chan is back in training and according to reports is expected to feature against Malaysia. 

(Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

There are a number of players on yellow cards meaning one more will result in a one-game suspension. Son Heung-min, Kim Min-jae, Lee Ki-je, Park Yong-woo, and Cho Gue-sung received cautions in the 3-1 win over Bahrain, while Hwang In-beom and Oh Hyeon-gyu were booked during the 2-2 draw with Jordan. Korea cannot afford to be without regular starters but suspensions to Kim Min-jae, Son Heung-min, and Hwang In-beom would be felt the most. Another yellow to Lee Ki-je would mean Korea are down to just two fit full backs.  




The Opposition

(Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Led by Korean manager Kim Pan-gon, Malaysia are ranked 130th in the world and 24th in Asia. The 2023 AFC Asian Cup is the Malayan Tiger's first appearance at this tournament since 2007 having failed to qualify in 2011, 2015, and 2019. However, Malaysia were co-hosting along with Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. The last time Malaysia qualified for an Asian Cup they didn't host was 1980 and 1976.

Most of the squad play for Malaysian Super League sides, including 12 from Johor Darul Ta'zim - a side that has caused problems for K League teams in the AFC Champions League on a number of occasions. Two players are on the books of clubs overseas - defender Junior Eldstål plays for Indonesian outfit Dewa United while Dion Cools is in Thailand with Buriram United.

Malaysian football writer Marco Negeri provides insight on Korea's opposition this Thursday:


Q: What were the expectations for Malaysia heading into the tournament?

A: The minimum expectation set by the FA of Malaysia was to leave the tournament with at least 1 point, given Malaysia's standing as opposed to the other members of its group. But prior to the Jordan game, confidence and expectations were so high by most parties for Malaysia to even make it past the group stages, given its draw performance against Syria during a pre-tournament friendly. Jordan provided Malaysia with a serious reality check if it had any ambitions of progressing further in the tournament.

Q: How is Korean coach Kim Pan-gon doing so far?

A: Despite the losses, he remains Malaysia's best football coach in the modern era, given the positive results pre-Asian Cup since his appointment in 2022 and especially in driving the nation to its first Asian Cup qualification by merit since 1980. The prognosis is that he would remain as Malaysia's coach further as the campaign for when the World Cup qualification gears up.

Q: Two defeats with five conceded, is that a fair reflection of what this Malaysia team is capable of?

A: Not at all. This squad remains one of the best squads ever assembled by Malaysia and has so much potential to achieve good results against better-ranked opponents. The 2 results were mostly blamed on tactical choices and player selection by the coach and pre/during game jitters suffered by some of the players during the matches. Nonetheless, the quality of its players, either the local talents, mixed heritage players or naturalised foreigners remains one of the best that the Southeast Asian region has to offer. i.e. Paulo Josue who was the key pivotal force in KL City's thrilling run during the AFC Cup in 2022.

(Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)


Q: What were your thoughts on the Bahrain performance? Very unlucky to concede so late like that.

A: Malaysia should have at least gone back with a point, that was the main plan for the game as evident throughout the match and reduced tempo witnessed after the introduction of Natxo Insa at the start of the second half, even though there were several key moments which the Malaysian players were unable to convert. Overall, it was a much-improved performance from the Jordan game, but just unlucky not to leave with a point. 

Q: What can we expect from Malaysia tactically and team selection-wise against Korea? 

A: The tactic employed may be premised on playing defensively and to try and at least score a goal during the game. Anything more would be an absolute bonus. Player selection remains everyone's guess, given fitness and injury suffered by some of the key players.

Q: Who are Malaysia's dangermen?

A: Pre-Asian Cup, it has always been the front three pairing of Faisal Halim, Darren Lok and Ariff Aiman, even though that has been shelved for other different variations by Kim Pan Gon in an attempt to secure positive results from the last two games. We may see the same risk-taking or new variation approach by Kim Pan-gon for the game against South Korea, although as mentioned, it is all dependent on who is fit and ready to start. 

Who & What to Watch

Hwang In-beom & Korea's composure in front of goal

(Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
It went down as an own goal but it was Hwang In-beom's shot from the edge of the box that salvaged a point. Hwang has been in good form so far with a goal and an assist against Bahrain, and it was Hwang's defense-splitting through ball into Son for the penalty to open the scoring against Jordan. Hwang's total passing accuracy improved from 86% against Bahrain to 91% against Jordan, likewise passes to the final third - 50% to 94% with 19 of 23 finding their intended target against Jordan. In terms of forward passes, Hwang showed 76% accuracy against Bahrain but improved to 81% against Jordan. Overall, Hwang sits first for passes to the final third, third for total passes, and third for through passes.

South Korea have dispatched the most shots so far with 36 but, with 30.6% accuracy, slip to 14th - behind yet-to-win Malaysia, China, and Palestine. Composure in front of goal is something that simply has to improve. Cho Gue-sung missed two decent chances against Jordan, in situations where he at least needed to test the goalkeeper. Son missed two good chances against Bahrain but, with Korea having lost control against Jordan, dropped deep and was deployed from the left in the second half when Korea were chasing the equaliser. Jurgen Klinsmann has a lot to think about in terms of who starts up front. Cho may be given the benefit of the doubt but Klinsmann will ill afford to in the knockout stages.


Prediction

It's fair to say that the Jordan match did not go to plan. There has to be a reaction against Malaysia and Korea will need to assert themselves on the game in a way that is befitting of one of the tournament favourites. The frustration of Jordan will probably lead to Korea flying out of the traps against Malaysia and Jurgen Klinsmann will want a convincing win. Korea must go for the jugular to build momentum before the Round of 16.

South Korea 4-1 Malaysia

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