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2019 U20 World Cup Preview: South Korea vs Japan

South Korea got through a tough group at the Under-20 World Cup which included some of the pre-tournament favorites. Their reward is a match against rivals Japan in the last 16. The winner will play either Nigeria or Senegal in the quarterfinals. K League United’s Korean national team correspondent Steve Price takes a look at this knockout matchup.


Last Time Out


South Korea got an impressive 2-1 win against Argentina to book their place in the knockout stages. Oh Se-hun got the opener for South Korea just before half time, heading home a brilliant cross from Lee Kang-in. Cho Young-wook doubled Korea’s lead with a great bit of movement in the box to get ahead of the near-post defender and smash home Jeong Ho-jin’s low cross. Korea’s 3-5-2 formation then stifled Argentina’s attack for the rest of the game until Cristian Ferrera’s long range shot beat Lee Gwang-yeon to make it a tense last few minutes for Korea. Lee Gwang-yeon perhaps should have done better with the shot, but apart from that had a solid match. In Group F’s other match, Portugal were eliminated after a draw with South Africa wasn’t good enough for them to finish in the four best third-place teams.

Japan played out a goalless draw with Italy in their final group stage match. Both sides were effectively already through to the knockout stages but Japan needed at least a point to make sure. In the last Under-20 tournament, England’s Fikayo Tomori scored an own goal from the half way line against Guinea, and Japan almost did the same early in this match, with goalkeeper Tomaya Wakahara forced to slide-tackle the ball off his own line in the early stages. Japan then had a chance to go one-nil up after they were awarded a penalty kick but Hiroki Ito saw his effort saved. Japan had a few good chances to win the game, hitting the target seven times, but their finishing let them down a bit in the end.

Japan finished second in Group B with five points. They drew their first game 1-1 with Ecuador before an impressive three-nil win over Mexico where their incisive passing breaking down the Mexican defense.

Who To Watch – South Korea


Dynamo Zagreb prospect Kim Hyun-woo is having a great tournament, scoring the winning goal against South Africa, before leaving the game on a stretcher. That didn’t stop him putting in a rock-solid performance against Argentina, which impressed Scouted Football enough for them to name him their man-of-the-match.

Lee Kang-in has looked better and better as the tournament has gone on. He created the first goal against Argentina all by himself and his technical ability allowed Korea to damage Argentina with counterattacks launched by his pin-point passing in the second half.

Who To Watch – Japan


Mitsuki Saito comes highly rated and is having a solid tournament. He plays as a defensive midfielder for his club Shonan Bellmare despite wearing the number 10, and the captain’s armband. Saito is a regular for his club in a position that is often filled by older players, He had 30 appearances in the J2 all the way back in 2017. That faith in youth was rewarded when Shonan Bellmare won the league, and shows that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
Kawasaki Frontale’s Taisei Miyashiro scored twice against Mexico, the first a low shot right into the bottom corner. For the second goal, he held off the Mexico defender to pull the ball onto his right foot before smashing it across the goal. He is yet to break into the Kawasaki first team, but has been a regular goalscorer at youth level for Japan.

South Korea play Japan at 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Korea time.

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