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scouting

2023 AFC Asian Cup: South Korea vs. Bahrain Preview


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

Overview & Match Information

Fixture: South Korea vs. Bahrain
Competition: 2023 AFC Asian Cup
Venue: Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha
Date: Monday 15th January 2024, 20:30 KST

The Group G curtain-raiser sees South Korea take on Bahrain on Monday night. Korea have made no secret that the aim is to win the competition and so will be keen to get off to a flying start. Korea's group stage opener record reads played 14, won six, drawn seven, lost one. Bahrain, meanwhile, have never won a group stage opener having drawn three and lost three.

Recent Form

Korea head into their Asian Cup opener in good form. The 1-0 friendly win over Iraq on Saturday 6th January extended the Taeguk Warriors' unbeaten run to eight with six straight wins and seven consecutive cleansheets. In competitive action, Korea have played just two matches under Jurgen Klinsmann - a 5-0 win over Singapore at home and a 3-0 victory away to China.

Bahrain were in action on Wednesday against Angola but lost 3-0. Three days prior, Bahrain lost 2-0 to Australia in what was their first match of 2024. It's three losses in a row with no goals scored with Bahrain's last victory coming away to Yemen in mid-November in a World Cup qualifier.

Team News

Lee Kang-in will not be suspended, despite his red card in the 1-0 friendly win over Iraq. He is expected to start. Kim Jin-su is a doubt through injury so Lee Ki-je is almost a certainty to start at left back. Hwang Hee-chan is also a major doubt with a hip problem and is expected to miss the first two group matches while Lee Jae-sung has a minor calf problem. Jeong Woo-yeong could therefore start on the right wing.

For Bahrain, Ahmed Bughammar has a back injury and is unlikely to feature; Salem Hussain could replace him, according to News of Bahrain.

Head-to-Head

The two teams have met before at the AFC Asian Cup. In 2019, Korea needed extra time to ease their way past a stubborn Bahrain side with Kim Jin-su eventually finding the winner in the first half of extra time. Hwang Hee-chan had given Korea a 43rd-minute lead only for Mohammed Al Romaihi to restore parity on 77 minutes.

(Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Korea also beat Bahrain 2-1 in the 2011 Asian Cup - also the group opener - with Koo Ja-cheol bagging a brace. In 2007, though, it was Bahrain who emerged as the victors after coming back from behind. Kim Do-heon put Korea just four minutes in but Salman Isa levelled on 43 before Ismaeel Abdullatif Hassan found a winner five minutes from time.

Over all, there have been five previous meetings between the two teams; Korea have won three, Bahrain one, and one draw.

The Opposition

Photo by HUSSEIN FALEH/AFP via Getty Images)

Bahrain are Korea's highest-ranked opposition in the group stage, sitting 86th in the world and 12th in Asia. They reached the Round of 16 in 2019, their second-best finish having finished fourth in 2004. Bahrain first entered the Asian Cup in 1988. From 1956 to 1964 the country was technically part of the United Kingdom and did not enter in 1968. Bahrain didn't qualify for the 1972 tournament in Thailand and withdrew in 1976, 1980, and 1984 but made history by qualifying in 1988. They didn't qualify for the next three tournaments but have made it to every Asian Cup since 2004.

The vast majority of the Bahrain squad plays in the country's domestic league with the exceptions of midfielder Ali Madan who plies his tried in the UAE with Ajman, midfielder Moses Atede who is on the books of Malaysian Super League side Kedah Darul Aman, and forward Abdul Yusef Helal who plays for Czech top division side Mladá Boleslav. One alteration to the original squad is that defender Ahmed Bughammar's back injury led to the call-up of Al Shabab's Salem Hussain.

Yusef will be seen as Bahrain's main goal threat. He's scored six and assisted two for FK Mlada Boleslav this season from 19 appearances in all competitions. Overall, the 30-year-old has 11 in 80 caps for his country.

Dilmun's Warriors, as they're referred to, are led by Italian head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi. As a player, Pizzi played for some very big clubs, including Valencia, Barcelona, River Plate, and Porto. The Bahrain job isn't his first with a national team having also led Chile from 2016 to 2017. Bahrain have played seven matches under his stewardship, winning three, drawing one, and losing one with six goals scored and eight against.

Who to Watch

Lee Kang-in & Lee Ki-je

(Photo by AFP) 
With Lee Kang-in, South Korea have a genuine star. He provides an attacking spark in and around the box with his quick feet and crisp passing. But because of the aura around him, and the fact that he plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world in Paris Saint-Germain, teams now have another player they have to try and nullify. Teams often tried to double up on Son Heung-min and if they do, then Lee Kang-in will have more space to work with. Likewise, if Lee is doubled up on then Son will have more space to hurt teams. Lee Kang-in's record for the full national team is impressive with four goals and five assists in 19 caps, averaging one goal contribution every 2.1 games.


In terms of K Leaguer to watch, Lee Ki-je at left back has the manager's backing and with Kim Jin-su an injury doubt, is expected to be Klinsmann's first choice. The group stage will be a good platform for Lee to show what he can do from an attacking sense. He's made 11 caps for the full national team and his only assist came in March last year in the 2-1 loss to Uruguay. Lee ranked eighth for total crosses in K League 1 last season with 85, fourth for a left back. His accuracy was at 42.35%, 11th overall and sixth among all full backs.

Prediction

This should be a relatively straightforward match for a team of South Korea's quality, particularly with its attacking options. Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan, and Lee Kang-in are in good form for their clubs and should prove to be too much for Bahrain to handle.

South Korea 2-0 Bahrain

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