In 2007, Iraq knocked out Korea in the Semi-Finals. They later went on to win it all.
In 2015, Korea has a chance to settle the score and book their first Asian Cup finals spot since 1988.
Korea didn’t have the best of Group Stages in 2007, sure. They struggled against inferior opponents, losing to Bahrain, but beat Indonesia and then Iran on penalties to advance to the Semi-Finals. Despite a poor tournament, a win in the Asian Cup would have been a great morale-booster for a national team still licking their wounds after a disappointing 2006 World Cup exit.
And then Iraq came, and this happened after a dull scoreless 120 minutes.
This is Korea’s chance to avenge that defeat and most importantly qualify for the Asian Cup Finals for the first time in 27 years.
I largely expect the team to stay virtually the same. Cha Du-Ri is a personal favorite of mine and I hope he starts over lackluster Kim Chang-Soo. I know the latter is a bit more cautious and perhaps offers more defensively, but Cha, despite leaving space behind him, is much more talented and is a tireless runner.
In GK, Kim Jin-Hyeon should get the nod. “I hope he can keep a clean sheet again,” said Stielike. Kim Jin-Hyeon has been absolutely stellar. Here’s all of his saves this Asian Cup:
The double-pivot of Ki Sung-Yueng and Park Joo-Ho has been superb this tournament, and they will dominate the pitch once more. I really hope they take the game to Iraq who are without their key playmaker, Yaser Kasim. (More on that below.) A Naver article throws a wrench in those plans however, as Stielike had Jang Hyun-Soo and Park Joo-Ho as the double-pivot in training, while Ki was playing in the hole. This is an interesting possible approach as it would put our playmaker in an attacking role and sort of take the game more to the Iraqis. However, I don’t really see it happening as a major change like that isn’t really needed in a Semi-Final of a key tournament. I expect Jang Hyun-Soo to play the shut-down defensive midfield substitution role in a 4-3-3.
The center back pairing could see a change as aging Kwak Tae-Hwi might be running a bit out of gas. Training suggests we could see Kim Ju-Young slot in alongside Kim Young-Gwon.
The rest of the team should stay the same. Son Heung-Min will be closely watched by Iraq on the left, especially after his two goals. Marking him tightly nullifies his threat, and I hope Son decides to pass the ball quicker instead of coughing up the ball when tightly marked. Nam Tae-Hee hasn’t been super impressive, either in the hole or on the wing, and his creativity, one of his strengths, isn’t showing. Lee Keun-Ho is a tireless runner and we should see him on the wing with Lee Jung-Hyub up top.
The last meeting between these two sides was in March 2009. Korea won 2-1 but scored all three goals in that encounter. (Hwang Jae-Won own goal followed by Kim Chi-Woo and Lee Keun-Ho penalty).
Korea is the only team remaining in the tournament to not concede a goal.
Ki Sung-Yueng has completed the most passes this Asian Cup.
Iraq have the youngest team in the Asian Cup (average of 22.69 years old).
Iraq is without a doubt the weakest team left in the Asian Cup if they were not already after the Group Stage. They have been quietly getting better, yes, but when you consider that they only needed to beat out-of-form Jordan and minnows Palestine to make the knockout stages, their final four finish should be taken with a grain of salt.
In their quarter-final matchup against Iran, the Lions of Mesopotamia were not fancied. And yet, a stroke of good fortune (the shocking sending-off of Mehrdad Pooladi) turned the game on its head and the Iraqis got past Team Melli on spotkicks.
There were also concerns that Iraq would be disqualified due to the potential ineligibility of Alaa Abdul-Zahra, but the AFC has cleared the team to play in the semi-finals.
Iraq do have a few big names, including MLS’ Justin Meram, up-and-coming star Ali Adnan and of course, their walking-talking legend Younis Mahmoud. Iraq are not going to get many chances in this game, but as we have seen so far, Korea’s 0-goal-conceded stat is a mixture of opposition blunders and goalkeeper heroics. And Mahmoud, despite only showing shades of his old self, still has the ability to finish. Korea must be wary.
Iraq are hurt by the suspension of influential midfielder Yaser Kasim. After accumulating too many yellow cards, Kasim now must sit on the bench and this will seriously hurt them in terms of distributing the ball. Osama Rashid, known for being rather slow, now must come in in Kasim’s place with virtually no gametime preparation.
The Iraqis will play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, provided that they stick to that in this game.
Iraq are also weak in the air, and conceded two goals on corners against ten-man Iran. They do not look at all comfortable defending aerial set-plays. Ki Sung-Yueng and Son Heung-Min especially can deliver deadly accurate crosses, and Korea must seize this opportunity. It is peculiar to call it a strength, but seriously, we’re actually better at setpieces than these guys. (gasp!)
Gametime: 4am EST, 6pm KST, 8pm Local Time
Broadcast in Korea: KBS2/MBC
Broadcast in North America: One World Sports
Location: Stadium Australia, Sydney, Australia
6 hours to go – time for some sleep. See you soon. Jalgayo (for now) from the TSC.