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Writers' Chat: Australia vs South Korea

In the last international break before the 2019 Asian Cup, South Korea head to Brisbane for matches against Australia and Uzbekistan. But with a depleted squad, these matches will prove a tough test for Paulo Bento’s side. First up is Australia who, like South Korea, failed to make it out of the group stage at the 2018 World Cup, and have changed their head coach since then, appointing Sydney FC head coach Graham Arnold as the new leader of the Socceroos. K League United National Team Writer Steve Price talked to Australian soccer journalist Paul Williams about the match.
(image via Yonhap News)

Previous Meetings

South Korea last played Australia in the final of the 2015 Asian Cup in Sydney back when Uli Stielike was in charge of the national team and Lee Jeong-hyup was lining up as Korea’s main striker. Australia took the lead right on half time with a Massimo Luongo strike from outside the box, but in the last minute of the match, Son Heung-min got on the end of a clever Ki Sung-yeung pass that split the Australian defense and equalized to take the game to extra time. But Korea couldn’t take advantage of that late goal and midway through extra time Kim Jin-su got bundled off the ball by Tomi Juric whose shot was parried into the path of James Troisi. The Australia substitute put the ball into the Korea net to give Australia a historic Asian Cup win on home soil.

South Korea Team News

Paulo Bento has had his options limited when selecting his squad to play Australia. Star man Son Heung-min will take a rest during this international break to help him avoid fatigue later in the season for Tottenham Hotspur after playing in the 2018 World Cup and Asian Games over the summer.

Korea’s already limited defensive options became a little thinner after the KFA banned Jang Hyun-soo from the national team for life after the controversy regarding allegedly doctored community service documents.

Several other key players are being rested, so Korea will be without captain Ki Seung-yung, Hellas Verona’s Lee Seung-woo and Holstein Kiel’s Lee Jae-sung.

After the squad for the Australia and Uzbekistan matches was announced, South Korea have been hit with a spate of injuries. Defender Kim Moon-hwan, midfielder Jeong Woo-young, and forward Hwang Hee-chan all pulled out of the squad through injury. Asan Mugunghwa’s Joo Se-jong replaces Jeong Woo-young. No other replacements have been called up.

Writers' Chat

To find out a bit more about Korea's opponents, Steve Price spoke to Australian soccer writer Paul Williams, who writes for FOX Sports Asia and Four Four Two amongst other publications, in addition to co-hosting The Asian Game Podcast.

Steve Asks, Paul Answers

Steve Price: How are Australia approaching this match? Are Australia sending a full strength team for this game?

Paul Williams: Given this is one of the last matches the Socceroos will play before they begin their defense of the Asian Cup in January, they’re taking the match very seriously as you would expect. Graham Arnold has only had a short window since taking over the side to instill his method and philosophy, so he will need the match to continue his development with this team. So I would expect Australia to put its strongest XI on the park for the start of the match. We may see some changes and subs in the second half, where he may bring in some of the younger players, but from the start I expect our strongest team.

SP: Which players should fans look out for? Are there any up-and-coming stars in this Australia team?

PW: Daniel Arzani was the obvious answer until about 3 weeks ago when he tore his ACL in his Celtic debut, which will sideline him for about 12 months. There are a number of players to watch out for though. They’re not necessarily young in the purest sense, but they’re young in terms of their position in the side. Someone like Awer Mabil, who made his debut and scored against Kuwait, is having a sensational season in Denmark and with the injury to Arzani there is a chance for him to get more game time. I’m also hoping to see more of Mass Luongo too. Again, he’s not really young but he inexplicably didn’t play a minute at the World Cup, and I’m hoping to see him get more time in midfield. He was tournament MVP at the Asian Cup in 2015, and with a new coach and Mile Jedinak retired, the time is now for Mass to take his spot in the side.

SP: After winning the Asian Cup in 2015, how far are Australia expected to go in 2019? How are preparations for the Asian Cup going?

PW: There is no doubt the Australian public expect Australia to win the tournament again. I could go on one of my favourite rants about how the Australian public typically underrate Asian opposition and don’t pay them enough respect. I think a semi-final appearance would be considered the minimum benchmark, and anything can happen in tournament football, but I would say the expectation in Australia is still that Australia should be able to win the tournament. I’m not sure I am as bullish. Certainly I think Australia are one of the better teams in Asia, but there are no standout teams at the moment, and in my opinion I think any of about five or six teams could realistically win the title.

Paul Asks, Steve Answers

Paul Williams: What is the priority for Korea in this match, especially without so much of their attacking talent?

Steve Price: Son Heung-min will be absent not just for these friendly matches but also for some of the group stage matches at the Asian Cup, so one of the priorities will be trying to find a way to score without relying on ‘Sonaldo’. Korea often look to Son to help them out and pass to him a little too often, and Son can struggle to influence national team games as he often finds himself heavily marked by opponents, so a few games without him could help Korea develop as a team. Paulo Bento has previously said that it will take more time to improve Korea’s attacking play than it will to sort out the defense, so he’ll probably spend more time in training working on attack for these two matches. Korea’s lack of penetration showed in the match against Panama where they couldn’t regain their lead after being pegged back to two-two, so clearly there’s a long way for Korea to go. Bento is still just starting out as Korea’s coach and has selected quite a few players for their debuts so another priority for him will be learning about the players he has at his disposal before he selects his squad for the Asian Cup.

PW:  How will the loss of Jang Hyun-soo hurt the side and what options does Bento have to replace him?

SP: A lot of Korean fans will say ‘good riddance’ as Jang Hyun-soo was quite unpopular with fans due to some high profile defensive errors. He copped the blame for several goals that Korea conceded at the World Cup. However, Korea’s defenders are often the target of criticism by fans and Jang Hyun-soo is one of the best Korean defenders around. Now that he is playing regularly again (after suffering like many other Korean defenders from China’s rule changes which forced him to spend a season on the sidelines a few years ago) he will only improve between now and 2022 so from a purely squad-based view, his absence could hurt the team. But Korea do have other options in central defense and Jang’s absence will give Jeonbuk Motors’ Kim Min-jae a chance to nail down one of the two central defensive spots alongside Kim Young-gwon. Jung Seung-hyun has also had a great season with Kashima Antlers, helping them win the Asian Champions’ League, so he will also be pushing for a bigger role in the side. One of Jang Hyun-soo’s biggest strengths is that he can play in midfield as well as defense, so one of the main beneficiaries of his ban could be Korea’s forgotten man Kwon Kyung-won. Kwon is surprisingly the second most expensive Korean ever, and has played in central defense and in midfield during his time at Tianjin Quanjian.

PW: Where are Korea at under Paulo Bento? How has he been received and is he on the right track? From my perspective it looks like Korea are in the same spot they were 4 years ago when Uli Stielike was appointed and they had that great Asian Cup. Is Bento the man to get them to take that next step?

SP: The KFA have been saying that Bento was hired to take Korea to the next step and he is confident of doing well at the Asian Cup. So far he has been received well, and with two wins and two draws against Chile and three teams that were at the World Cup, he has got off to a good start. Beating Uruguay was a big result for him as Korea had never beaten them before, and Uruguay looked like strong opponents at the World Cup (although they were missing some key players for the match against Korea). Bento has also made Korea a little bit more direct and varied in their attacks, whereas Stielike was often criticized for Korea’s slow buildup play under him. Bento has also been thinking long-term, selecting young players who will be reaching their peak in 2022 or in some cases later than that. For these friendlies, he has only selected two defenders who are over thirty (Park Joo-ho and Lee Yong). Unlike some foreign coaches, he has moved to Korea (and is living in Goyang, near the National Training Center rather than in Seoul) and gotten more involved in player development than some might expect, so the signs so far are positive. Of course, a few bad results and people's opinion of him could change quickly.

South Korea play Australia on Saturday 17th November at 17:50 Korean time and Uzbekistan on Tuesday at 19:00 Korean time

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