Tuesday is where, it hopefully, all ends. The last match of World Cup qualification. Korea will head down to Ulsan’s Munsu Stadium to take on old west Asian rivals Iran. Both teams are poised to automatically qualify, with Korea in 1st place wth 14 points and Iran in 2nd place with 13 points. Uzbekistan can take one of them out of the automatic spots if results fall a certain way.
US Broadcast: 8pm EST on One World Sports (ch 600 dish network) & streaming on oneworldsports.com
Korea Broadcast: 9 pm on SBS.
War of Words
Immediately following Korea’s win over Uzbekistan, Choi Kang-Hee opened up the rivalry by stating that he wanted to beat Iran and let Uzbekistan automatically qualify for the World Cup. His reason? The poor treatment and lack of hospitality Iran showed Korea when they faced off in Tehran last year. Choi alleged that Iran gave them poor facilities to train in and not an appropriate amount of preparation time. Iran coach Carlos Queiroz hit back, telling Choi that his comments were an insult and disgraceful. Queiroz also sarcastically said he would buy Choi an Uzbekistan shirt and give it to him at the match. Fighting words indeed.
Choi’s comments are unusual in that, he doesn’t usually make such bold, openly controversial statements. Perhaps secure with the knowledge that Tuesday’s match will be his final one with the national team, he feels that he can push the boundaries a bit?Regardless, it will be interesting to see how both teams react to these statements. Choi could have just given Iran plenty of motivational fodder, or he could be beginning to play some masterful mind games with them. I suppose only time will tell which.
Park Jong-Woo is suspended (again) for yellow card accumulation. Unfortunate, as he had struck up a fairly solid partnership with Lee Myeong-Joo. Kim Nam-Il has been tipped to replace him (if he’s fully fit), but we could see Han Kook-Young or Jang Hyun-Soo step in as well. Kwak Tae-Hwi is questionable following his injury that he picked up in the Uzbekistan match. If Kwak is not available, Kim Ki-Hee seems the likely replacement. Kim seems to have jumped the line ahead of former favorite Jung In-Hwan. The main question surrounding this match is how much tinkering Choi will do with the starting XI given the decent performance of the last group.
Choi has said he will treat this game as “must win” which would imply he doesn’t plan on changing much, yet reports from camp indicate there may be some significant changes. For whatever reason Choi seems to be looking to try the Kim Shin-Wook/Lee Dong-Gook partnership up top. Why? I’m not sure given it’s rarely looked fruitful. Son Heung-Min, fresh off his completed transfer to Bayer Leverkusen, looks to be used on the left. Lee Myeong-Joo and Lee Chung-Yong look set to keep their respective places. The key factor is the attack and formation looks to be the other central midfielder. Kim Nam-Il, who missed the Uzbekistan match due to illness, is a possibility should he be fully fit and recovered. If he starts then the formation will likely be 4-4-2 with the Kim-Lee partnership. Should Kim Nam-Il not recover in time, Jang Hyun-Soo looks like the alternative option. Should Choi use Jang Hyun-Soo then the formation would possibly revert to a 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 (similar to the earlier Iran match) with Jang playing a pure defensive midfield role. In this case, Choi would likely drop one of Kim Shin-Wook or Lee Dong-Gook and start Kim Bo-Kyung in a central attacking role next to Lee Myeong-Joo. In defense Kim Chang-Soo and Kim Young-Kwon look to stay in the starting XI. Kim Ki-Hee looks the likely starter in central defense should Kwak Tae-Hwi not make it. Park Joo-Ho and Kim Chi-Woo seems like a little bit of a toss up as to who will start. Feels like Kim Chi-Woo will likely retain his spot.
Iran’s convincing win over Lebanon gave them plenty of hope for Brazil. Not only did the points move them ahead of Uzbekistan, but the 4 goal win also gave them a cushion in the goal difference category. Iran doesn’t have any really big name players in their squad, but they are certainly more than capable of causing problems for Korea. They will be led by midfielder Javad Nekounam, formerly of Osasuna. Nekounam is hugely experienced with 131 caps and 36 goals to his name. Nekounam also scored the only goal in Iran’s 1-0 win over us in Tehran.
Iran is led by well-recognized coach Carlos Queiroz. Queiroz is most well-known for being the assistant coach for Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, but he has also had spells leading Real Madrid, the Portuguese national team, and clubs in Portugal, Japan, and the U.S. Tactically, Queiroz is known for being a fairly conservative manager. With United he is credited for slowing their swashbuckling, full out attack style into a more tactical, balanced side. However, Queiroz is widely seen as a manager who plays ultra-conservative matches, with his sides often resembling something of a 4-5-1. I suspect that he will continue this style and formation tomorrow.
This match could go a couple ways. I feel that it will be a fairly conservative, “we’re happy with a draw” kind of match. Both teams are in the auto spots, and neither will want to jeopardize that. However, it could be a very open attacking game, if you believe both managers. Choi wants to win to secure first place and help Uzbekistan. Queiroz wants to get revenge for Choi’s insulting comments. But again, I feel the former scenario is more likely.
Final matchday. Not many permutations left. Korea secures automatic qualification with a win or draw. Korea could drop into the playoff spot if we lose and Uzbekistan wins. The key thing in that situation is Uzbekistan must make up the current -6 goal difference they have with Korea. Iran achieves automatic qualification with a win. A draw or loss coupled with an Uzbekistan win could see Iran drop into the playoff spot. Again though Uzbekistan must make up a sizable goal difference (-4) in the even of an Iranian draw. Uzbekistan’s best chance of avoiding the playoff is to win, and hope that Korea beats Iran. Should the unthinkable happen, and Korea drop into the playoff spot, they would face the 3rd place Group B team (either Oman <current> or Jordan). Then they would need to beat the 5th place South American team (currently Uruguay).