After being drawn in an extremely difficult group at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, followed by lady luck slapping the team with 7 injuries including several starters, Korean national team fans have been looking for a break. Thankfully, our prayers may well have been answered. A look at the Asian Cup and Asian Games brackets spells good news for Korea.
Asian Cup Draw
First, the best piece of news. The 2019 Asian Cup draw was held in May of this year, and a closer look reveals an extremely favorable draw for Korea, including in the knockout stages.
Saudi Arabia to face Qatar in 2019 Asian Cup hosted by UAE. Full draw here: pic.twitter.com/hj5xtqmiq0
— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) May 4, 2018
Korea’s first two matches – against Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines, both Asian Cup debutants benefiting from the expanded 24-team format – shouldn’t pose much of a problem (no disrespect). However, that third match against China is hugely important, and whoever is managing the Korean national team would be ill-advised to rest players in a game that could very well shape how likely Korea will be at making a deep run in the UAE.
If we operate off of the assumption that every major team (Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, etc.) does as well as expected in their respective groups, and working off of FIFA rankings & my own predictions, the path to the Final is remarkably easier if Korea tops their group.
China wins the group, Korea second
In the event that we draw China and lose out on goal differential, or lose to China entirely, then our path to the final on February 1st is remarkably difficult. Our Round of 16 match has the potential of being one of the most difficult in the round, as we could face the hosts UAE (if they finish 2nd in their group). But no celebrating should we pass that hurdle, as Carlos Quieroz’s Iran – a side that we haven’t beaten in 13 years – lies in the wake. Given how Iran was by far the best Asian team at this past World Cup, a quarter-final exit seems likely. And even if we miraculously pulled off a win, we’d have it all to do against Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia or Qatar in the semi-final. In other words, it is possible that all 5 of AFC’s representatives at this past World Cup… will be in the same half of the draw.
So, no thank you. Beating China is a must.
Korea wins the group, China second
This scenario, however, is a gift from the bracketology gods. While Iran, Australia, Japan, China and one of Saudi Arabia and Qatar clash in the top half of the bracket, Korea has an almost clear path to the finals. Their round of 16 match shouldn’t cause them too much trouble – depending on how well either of the three potential 3rd placed teams set up their low block. The quarter-finals isn’t a given, but our track record is much better against Saudi Arabia or Qatar than Iran. And the semi-final is equally as favorable, with only one loss against either of those sides (UAE in a 2005 friendly) in history.
Nothing is a given in the Asian Cup – in previous tournaments we’ve been eliminated by Iraq, lost to Kuwait, and only made one final since 1964. But the odds are far more in our favor than any of the “big 4”.
Asian Games Draws*
*That’s right, draws, because we’ve got to give a mention to our Taeguk Nangjas as well.
On the men’s side, though it certainly isn’t as favorable a draw than the Asian Cup, we certainly avoided any tricky group and don’t have an impossible succession of difficult opponents to worry about.
Asian Games men's football draw results.
— AFC (@theafcdotcom) July 5, 2018
Anything less than a first place finish in the group will be a shock without a doubt. Operating under the assumption that the AFC will use the same bracket for the round of 16 as FIFA usually does (the way they calculate the third-placed teams), here’s what a sample bracket for Kim Hak-bum’s men looks like:
Not half bad. Korea gets a fairly straightforward Round of 16 match against a third-placed team, and that would likely set-up a quarter-final against either Iraq or China and a semi-final against a slightly more difficult opponent. Given that this tournament is only played with 20 players and allows for at most 2 days rest in between games, it will be important for the team to be able to take an early lead and avoid going into extra time or exerting maximal effort throughout the entirely of matches. Having a fairly smooth first four matches will allow Kim Hak-bum to a) get everyone on the pitch at least once, ensuring the whole squad would be eligible for exemption, and b) rest players as needed, including protecting Son Heung-min, who will surely face a lot of rough tackling in the latter stages.
The Asian Games can also be equally as unpredictable and cruel to Korea, who’ve won gold only once since it became a U-23 competition in 2002. But once again, the bracket gods have at least avoided any potential for an early upset.
On the women’s side:
Draw results for the Asian Games women's football.
— AFC (@theafcdotcom) July 5, 2018
After winning bronze in Incheon in 2014, the aim for the senior women’s team (not U-23 here) is to go even further and qualify for their first ever Asian Games final. Their group certainly doesn’t give them anything to worry about, and we should be seeing comfortable scorelines and clean sheets in the first three matches.
The format has also made it so that should Korea top their group (highly likely) they’ll play the 3rd-placed team from Group B. That’s the real godsend – avoiding a quarter-final against one of the more dangerous women’s teams. If North Korea and China do their duty and finish 1-2 as expected, Hong Kong will be the opponent for the women. A place in the semi-finals seems easily within reach, where they face the Group B winners. Though that game will be a real test for South Korea, who traditionally has been slightly weaker than those two countries and Japan, but comfortably better than any of the more “minnow” countries, nothing is impossible. Even a defeat in that match would likely set-up a bronze medal, in a tie against either Thailand or Vietnam – a game the Koreans are able to win. Getting on the podium for a second consecutive tournament will be an achievement the Korean women will be satisfied with, and the luck of the draw seems to indicate that this is the worst-case scenario possible.
What do you think of Korea’s draws at the Asian Cup and Games?