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World Cup Asian Qualifier Preview: South Korea vs. Singapore

2026 World Cup qualification begins for South Korea on Thursday with the visit of Singapore. It's the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

Overview & Match Information

Fixture: South Korea vs. Singapore
Competition: FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers
Date: Thursday 16th November 2023, 20:00 KST
Venue: Seoul World Cup Stadium

Recent Form

South Korea, despite a tricky start under Jurgen Klinsmann, are now on a run of five unbeaten with three straight wins, 12 goals scored and just one conceded.  In the October international window, Korea put four past Tunisia and six past Vietnam. The three wins have come against countries ranked below South Korea - Saudi Arabia (57th), Tunisia (32nd), and Vietnam (94th) and so the sterner tests for Klinsmann and his team are yet to come.

Singapore head to Seoul on the back of three straight wins themselves, two in the first round of Asian qualifiers with back-to-back wins over Guam. Their only loss in the last five matches was at home to Tajikistan in September. 

Team News

There are few surprises or changes in Jurgen Klinsmann's squad. The squad is light on defenders with just three centre backs - Kim Young-gwon, Kim Min-jae, and Jung Seung-hyun. There are just nine players from K League teams, mostly from Ulsan. On the day of the game it was announced by the KFA that midfielder Hong Hyun-seok was forced to withdraw due to injury and that Jeonbuk's Park Jin-seob was called up to replace him. Park can play as a central midfielder, a holding midfielder, or a centre back and so his versatility will be useful for Jurgen Klinsmann.

The Opposition

Singapore are ranked 155th in the world and 31st in Asia. They have won four ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championships with the most recent in 2013, and have won three silvers at the Southeast Asian Games and four bronze. The team's head coach is 50-year-old Takayuki Nishigaya who has previously managed Mito Hollyhock in J2 (2015-2017) and SC Sagamihara in J3 before becoming the U18s manager at Matsumoto Yamaga before being the club's assistant manager. He has been in charge of the Singapore national team since 2022 and has overseen 19 matches, winning eight, drawing five, and losing six for a win percentage of 42.

In terms World Cup qualification records, for 2022 in Qatar, Singapore made it to round two but finished fourth in a five-team group after two wins, one draw, and five losses. For 2018 in Russia, Singapore managed three wins, one draw, and four losses to finish third in their five-team group and make it through to the Asian Cup qualifying round. For 2014 in Brazil, Singapore earned a 6-4 aggregate win over Malaysia (5-3, 1-1) in the first round but then in round two, finished bottom of their four-team group with six losses from six.

Former Singapore international Rhysh Roshan Rai on what South Korea can expect come Thursday:

What can we expect from Singapore in terms of their tactical approach to the game?

Singapore will most likely play with a back five without possession. They will probably have to play a pragmatic game and focus more on making sure they are compact/disciplined between the lines and protecting the spaces in their own half. They will probably go with a soak-and-counter style against opposition like Korea who will dominate the ball and will create the majority of chances. Singapore have been playing in a 5-2-3 or a 5-4-1 depending on the opposition and situation in-game and this can shift to a 3-4-3 with the ball. They will look to close off the spaces in the central areas of the pitch and try to make Korea go around on the outside and then defend the crosses that come in. When they do win it, they will be looking to use the spaces left behind by Korea's forays forward with some direct passing into the channels where possible. They have shown some decent combinations and phases of possession against sides at their level but I expect that they will find it very difficult to do that in this game. 

How have they played in the build-up to this match with Korea?

It's been a mixed bag in terms of their actual performances. Their two first-round matches against Guam were strange. Singapore were far and away the better side and should have thrashed Guam in the first leg but they couldn't put away a number of great chances and in the end, had to settle for a 2-1 win. The second leg in Guam wasn't a game of quality football. I guess for Singapore, it was about trying to secure progression and they were happy to keep their opposition at arm's length. It worked as they went through 3-1 on aggregate. Prior to those games against Guam, they had two friendlies with a 3-1 win against Chinese Taipei and the other a 2-0 defeat to Tajikistan. That defeat was one of just two that they have suffered in their nine matches this year but again, the opposition, with the exception of Tajikistan, have been of a similar quality to Singapore in those matches. Their consistency in performances has been lacking. In some games, the passing and combinations are slick. In others, the lack of quality has been apparent.

What do the local media and the fans think about the manager?

Takayuki Nishigaya has been under pressure since his introduction. Some fans and certain sections of the local media were not happy when he was named as national team coach because of what some have deemed to be a poor club CV and also how he was selected. They didn't feel he had the quality and experience to take charge of a side at international level. His record in terms of overall results hasn't actually been that bad. He has won eight, drawn five, and lost six matches as Singapore coach. He has had some high-profile defeats, like the one against Malaysia at the start of the year, which have added to the criticism but he has as mentioned, only lost two of his last 14 matches as head coach. Some of his critics have also said that there are players within the camp who might not be too convinced by his ability and some fans are just not happy with the overall level and consistency of play.

Who are Singapore's potential match-winners or star players Korea should be keeping an eye on?

Singapore does have good height and aerial ability in the team especially if Safuwan and Irfan start the game in central defence. Those two are very comfortable in the air and in dealing with high balls into the box. They, along with some others, could also pose a question or two with attacking set pieces. Singapore has some speed and decent quality going forward if they can feed their attackers well. Players like Shawal Anuar, Ikhsan, Ilhan, and Song Ui-young will likely be the ones to watch going forward. Remains to be seen if Ikhsan will play any part as he is only just returning from a serious knee injury and hasn't played for more than 10 months. His brother Ilhan is also just returning from injury but has had some minutes in recent weeks. Song Ui-young will also be fired up to put on a good display in his nation of birth. The 39-year-old goalkeeper Hassan Sunny will be busy and he will get lots of chances to show off his quality. He still is the country's best goalkeeper with his shot-stopping, bravery, reading of the game, and organisation.

What to Watch

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

What to expect from Korea? Well, it'll most likely be a 4-4-2 with Son Heung-min as a striker along side Cho Gue-sung or a 4-4-1-1 with Son just behind Cho. Korea will be tasked with breaking down a tight and compact Singapore and so will need the central midfielders to pick out the right pass. There are question marks over Park Yong-woo's suitability to play that deep-lying playmaker role as he doesn't have the range of passing nor his he quick enough on the ball. If Hwang In-beom returns to the side then this should help Korea get the ball moving. 

K League Player(s) to Watch

Judging from Klinsmann's team selections so far, the only K League players likely to start will be in the back four. If Singapore try to stay compact and limit the space through the middle then Korea's full backs might be looked upon to try and force their way up the pitch. This might be the ideal game for Lee Ki-je who is much better going forward than he his defensively. Seol Young-woo might want to stake a claim as new first-choice full back with his Ulsan teammate, the 34-year-old Kim Tae-hwan most likely to be phased out after the Asian Cup.

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