We were recently asked to preview Korea’s chances in the Asian Cup for @followtrawler. You can read the magazine online here
The full preview is below!
How do you expect the team to do?
If you’d asked us 6 months ago we would probably have said they should settle for getting out of their group but things seem to have turned around under new coach Paolo Bento and we’re now feeling much more optimistic. Assuming the group games go the way of seedings, Korea are in the favourable half of the draw in that they won’t have to play bogey team Iran, regional powerhouse Japan or Australia, their conquerors of four years ago, until the final. Providing they can navigate a potentially tricky quarter-final with Saudi Arabia, reaching the final should be highly possible.
Who should fans look out for?
The obvious choice would be Son Heung-min, the poster boy of Korean football but he rarely shows his Spurs form for the Taeguk Warriors and instead tends to upset the balance of the team with his teammates seemingly believing that ‘all passes lead to Son’. Instead we’d dummy the opposition in favour of keeping an eye on exciting attacking midfielder Lee Jae-sung who was MVP in the 2017 EAFF Cup and engineered a move to Holstein Kiel in the Bundesliga 2 on the back of a strong World Cup. Additionally there will be other players in the squad like star goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo who may see this as a chance to put themselves in the shop window for an overseas move. Finally all eyes will be on Hwang Uijo to see if he can repeat his rather incredible scoring feats from the Asian Games.
What does this mean to the country?
Korea is a country which pretty much ignores its domestic league with fans mostly interested in National Team games, EPL, La Liga and generally any European league featuring a Korean player. Korea limped into the 2018 World Cup on the back of some insipid performances that left the fans very disenchanted with the National Team and the first two games in Russia didn’t exactly do much to improve matters. A win against Germany in their final group match papered over the cracks somewhat but wasn’t enough to save then coach Shin Tae-young’s job. Paolo Bento has reinvigorated the squad bringing in some new faces and is unbeaten in his first six matches including positive results against the likes of Uruguay and Costa Rica. This has resulted in crowds flocking back to National Team games and their last couple of friendlies sold out. The freezing Korean winter will, unfortunately, preclude the ‘street-cheering’ in fan parks that Koreans like to do for big tournaments and the relatively late kick-off times will surely keep some of the more casual fans from tuning in to the group games. That being said expect the buzz to reach fever pitch and sales of chimaek (chicken and beer) to go through the roof as Korea progress through the tournament, especially if there is the prospect of a ‘Haniljeon’ (Korea vs Japan) final.
What do you predict for the final?
Korea won the first two editions of the Asian Cup and have finished at least third in eight of the subsequent 14 tournaments. Recent performances such as a 4-0 hammering of Uzbekistan, against whom they’d barely escaped with a 0-0 draw in their do-or-die final World Cup qualifier last year, and a 1-1 draw with Australia in Brisbane would indicate that things are looking up and the players certainly seem to be playing with an air of freedom and confidence not exhibited for a long time. However, unfortunately if they do indeed reach the final, we expect it to become 59 years of hurt as they will more than likely succumb to Iran to finish as runner-up for the second time in a row and fifth time in total.