The day is finally upon us. 4 years after a heartbreaking Asian Cup semi-final exit at the hands of Japan, South Korea begins their quest to end their 54 year (and counting!) drought of the Asian Cup against the injury-plagued, but not to be underestimated, Oman. Will Stielike’s men triumph in their first tournament game under their new manager?
(More after the jump.)
59 years ago, the first ever Asian Cup was contested. The tournament, after the Copa America, is the second-oldest official continental tournament to this day. In that Asian Cup, the usual powerhouses of today – Japan, Iran, Uzbekistan – did not feature. In the qualifying stages, unknown teams such as North Borneo or Ceylon were involved. Then-powerhouses Israel qualified for the Asian Cup because their Muslim opponents refused to play against them. South Korea needed to beat the Philippines and Taiwan on aggregate to represent the East of Asia. The eventual Asian Cup was a 4 team tournament, with Israel, South Vietnam, South Korea and hosts Hong Kong participating.
The South Koreans won that tournament, going undefeated in Hong Kong with 7 points in total, thanks to a 2-2 draw with Hong Kong, a 2-1 win against eventual runners-up Israel, and a 5-3 victory in what was surely a thrilling match against South Vietnam.
Oddly enough, the South Koreans lost the replica of the Asian Cup trophy they were awarded for their historic triumph, and it was only discovered in the past couple of months, under their noses, hanging on a trophy cabinet, unidentified, in a skating rink in Seoul.
In 1960, the tournament came home, and was played in Seoul. This time qualifying automatically, the Koreans came out winners for a 2nd consecutive year. Now, 55 years later, they have yet to set their hands on the elusive Asian Cup trophy again.
And the campaign to end this drought begins in a mere space of hours, as South Korea takes on Oman. So what Korean team can we expect?
South Korea will stick with their 4-2-3-1 formation. The general consensus is Kim Jin-Hyeon has won the first-choice keeper job, at least for now. The back four is easier to predict at center-half than at fullback. Kim Ju-Young and Jang Hyun-Soo are tipped by most Korean media to get the start, which may be a wise choice against an Omani team who will likely let Korea attack them. In my opinion, playing Kwak Tae-Hwi would be a liability, with his lack of pace, although some would argue otherwise in terms of a DM providing cover. Nonetheless, Kim JY-Jang HS seems to be the pairing of choice.
As for rightback, it is a toss-up; Cha Du-Ri offers energy and pace on the right, but leaves a lot of space behind them. As I will explain later, this space is dangerous for a counter-attack minded Omani side. Kim Chang-Soo is doesn’t seem to leave as much space but is less apt coming up the pitch, one could argue. Leftback is also a battle between Kim Jin-Su and Park Joo-Ho. The latter can feature in DM but a quick peruse of Korean media doesn’t seem to suggest that will happen in this match, but Kim Jin-Su was disappointing against Saudi Arabia. Once again, a total toss-up.
Ki Sung-Yueng will of course be starting, but his partner? SBS commentators this morning tipped Lee Myeong-Joo, but Han Kook-Young is also a possibility, with his defensive cover needed for potentially dangerous Oman counters.
The midfield 3 is set in stone, or so it seems. With Koo Ja-Cheol missing out on the captaincy, his role in the starting eleven has changed from “leader on the pitch” to “none”. Son will start on paper on the left, Nam in the hole and Lee Chung-Yong (who refused a contract offer from Bolton yesterday) on the right.
Striker is also an unsure spot, with various news organizations calling different things. Lee Jung-Hyub doesn’t seem to be tipped for a start, as his target man role might not be needed as much in a Omani team ready to concede space.
Just give me a picture.
I have done a lot of reading and research on Oman, although I haven’t watched one of their recent games for myself, just a little disclaimer there.
Oman play a standard 4-4-2 formation, very direct, and rather quick.
Oman, at first glance, struck me as a team having one thing that Korea lacked – consistency. Their manager, Paul Le Guen, has been with them for 3 years and counting. Their defensive backline has generally stayed together, and there is good chemistry between their two strikers, Said Al-Ruzaiqi and Amad Al-Hosni.
With 22 of 23 Oman callups playing in the now-professional Omani League (the lone exception: Wigan keeper Ali Al-Habsi), the first team should know each other fairly well. Despite this, they are a team still searching for the right balance between defense and offence.
What’s more, they have been plagued with injuries due to a pre-tournament friendly with over-aggressive China, forcing Le Guen into making two changes due to injury from the final squad.
Their recent results include the Gulf Cup, where they topped their group and thrashed an overly defensive-minded Kuwait 5-0, but failed to do anything else in the knockout stages, finish a disappointing fourth. A Jekyll and Hyde story if there ever was one.
Defensively speaking, Oman do not press until you reach the halfway line, which is something we can certainly expect versus Korea. Although they put 11 men behind the ball, they are not invincible to simple yet costly mistakes, especially at fullback. Regular rightback Saad Suhail is out and key centre-back Mohammad Al-Musalami is doubtful for this opener.
Simply put, Oman are a well-organized defensive team who seldom concede but seldom score. Their chemistry is one of their biggest assets, but with injuries in two key backline positions, they are suddenly not looking as scary as they were mere days ago.
- Oman have never progressed past the group stage in their 3 appearances at an Asian Cup; the last time South Korea did not was in 1984 (but they did not qualify for Japan 1992).
- Korea only have one win in their opening group game in their last 5 Asian Cups.
- Oman have the most players with 100+ caps in the tournament, with 4:
#1 Ali Al-Habsi (100 caps)
#12 Ahmed Mubarak Al-Mahaijri (108 caps)
#17 Hassab Mudhafar Al-Gheilani (113 caps)
#20 Amad Al-Hosni (115 caps)
- Korea have not played Oman in 12 years, according to Soccerway. Their last match was a 3-1 win for Oman in Oman.
Korean TV: KBS2 (Lee Young-Pyo in the commentary box for this one!)
American TV: One World Sports
No other official broadcast elsewhere.
Stadium: Canberra Stadium, Canberra, Australia
Time: 2pm KST, 12midnight EST, January 10th, 2015
The two other games following this one will be North Korea-Uzbekistan and China-Saudi Arabia. You can read my North Korea preview for Just Football website here: http://www.just-football.com/2015/01/north-korea-asian-cup-2015-preview/
Have a good night, sorry for the late preview, won’t happen again, don’t forget to follow the Tavern writers on twitter, I’ll be live-tweeting for sure, but I’m not sure about the others. Jalgayo from the TSC and see you in 4 hours.