After an underwhelming friendly draw against Georgia, the KNT will be looking for a step in the right direction in their World Cup qualifying match against Turkmenistan this Tuesday. This is the first of many second round WC qualifying matches to come in Group H, which also includes Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and North Korea. Although, the KNT are the heavy favorites in this continental matchup, it’s critical that they do not overlook inferiorly ranked opponents (Georgia is currently 97th in the FIFA rankings).
The Opponents: Turkmenistan
Like other countries in Central Asia, Turkmenistan is quite a mysterious place. In fact, the desert nation recorded a mere 8,900 visitors in 2012, making it one of the least visited countries in the world. In a continent as geographically, politically, and culturally diverse as Asia, the KNT is bound to be traveling to uncharted territory over the next few years. It’s important that whether the team is in Tokyo or Ashgabat, they remain unfazed in away environments.
The Turkmenistan national football team is currently ranked in the 132nd position. They made their second AFC Asian Cup appearance this year, threatening continental heavyweights Japan in a 2-3 loss in their first group stage match. However, The Greens would falter in their next two matches against regional rivals Uzbekistan and Oman, 4-nil and 3-1 respectively. They would understandably finish last in Group F, coming off only two international matches the year before.
At face value, Turkmenistan does not seem to pose a threat to Korea. However, the team seems quite coherent: 15 out of the 24 in the Turkmenistan selection play for the two best teams in the nation’s first division. If the KNT fails to pounce on attacking chances and commits silly defensive errors, expect Turkmenistan to make use of their unity to capitalize on those miscues. They have already defeated Sri Lanka 2-nil for their first WC qualifying match, so they can also come out with some unexpected momentum right out of the gate.
In response to an unbalanced performance with the 3-5-2 against Georgia, Paulo Bento decided to employ the 4-4-2 during the KNT’s last day of training. For this upcoming match, Bento is likely looking towards implementing a more conventional formation. He can’t experiment too much if he wants his team to start off on the right foot for WC qualification. My predicted starting lineup matches up with Bento’s final training lineup, but potential substitutes make the squad selection all that much more fascinating.
For the defense, I’ve opted for a more traditional backline with veterans Hong Chul and Lee Yong taking up the defensive wing-back spots. I’ve also selected vice-captain Kim Young-gwon and rising star Kim Min-jae for a one-two central defender punch. I personally think the four-man backline with the two aforementioned central defenders will be the conservative, but most effective defensive approach for the KNT down the line.
Going forward, I believe Lee Jae-sung and Kwon Chang-hoon are the two best-suited to start as wingers in a prospective 4-4-2. That should be set. For the central midfield I have Jung Woo-young and Kim Bo-kyung. I specifically chose JWY due to his last performance, having made the most forward passes (10) out of anybody playing for Korea in last Thursday’s friendly. Bento currently rates him and will likely have him starting in the match tomorrow. Kim Bo-kyung, a KNT veteran, will likely take the other central mid spot, leaving multiple options for substitutions.
One of these substitutions may be Hwang In-beom, who can give the squad a much needed boost in creativity. The 22-year-old is versatile but has eased into the role of a central midfielder with Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Bento has the liberty to take advantage of his recent development against a weaker Asian squad. Another possible midfield sub, Hwang Hee-chan, while not creative, is more than physically capable of shredding a tired Turkmenistan defense late in the match. Be sure to look out for him and HIB to make a late appearance in Tuesday’s qualifier.
I don’t see Bento giving Lee Kang-in or Paik Seung-ho any playing time for this match. I believe their appearances in the Georgia friendly are probably as far is it will go for now. They will certainly get more lucrative international opportunities in the future, perhaps in other qualifying matches this year.
The attack is pretty much set: an in-form Hwang Ui-jo and team captain Son Heung-min will be leading the KNT’s goal-scoring endeavors against Turkmenistan. Both forwards will be looking to score early before their opponents can strike back on late counterattacking opportunities. Bento may actually use Kim Shin-wook as a sub for HUJ if Korea finds itself in need of a set piece goal late in the match (but hopefully, this isn’t necessary).
Where: Kopetdag Stadium, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
When: Tuesday, September 9, 2019: 11 PM KST, 10 AM ET, 7 PM Local Time
Streaming Info: Namu Yoon, our IG admin and streaming afficianado, posted this tweet with tips for finding streams here. The match will be broadcasted on SBS in Korea.
Prediction: I originally said 4-nil in our last podcast episode. However, judging from the Japan match last January, I know Turkmenistan has the ability to surprise. I’ll give them my respect and drop the scoreline down a notch. 3-nil to Korea Republic.