Asian Cup & Asian Games Draws: Korea Gets Lucky

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.

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.

Men

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.

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.

Women

On the women’s side:

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?

About Tim Lee 319 Articles
The maple syrup guzzling kimchijjigae craving Korean-Canadian, eh?

15 Comments

  1. So Son needs to win gold to miss military service? Are we not talking about that yet? Or have we talked about it too much?

    • We’re staying hush quiet on this for a couple of weeks, we’ve got the military exemption to end all military exemption articles in the works.

      But yeah, he has to win gold to avoid exemption.

    • The Tottenham Hotspur fans might be more interested in this tournament more than anyone else.

    • If you only want to look at results, I guess it is Japan, but if you look at how the teams played, Iran is far better. They had a crazy difficult group (Spain AND Portugal, plus the African Spain – Morocco) and was literally one miss away from topping that group. Japan had an underwhelming Poland + Senegal and Colombia.

      • Yes you guys are biased lol- it’s OK to admit it.
        The entire world thinks Japan did the best out of all the AFC countries. Just talk to anyone. Sure they got lucky to make it out of their group, but after their game against Belgium everyone forgot all about that.
        Not only that, but you could even go so far to say that they did the best out of all non-UEFA and CONMEBOL teams. Yes, Mexico made it to the round of 16 but they never really looked like they had a chance against Brazil.

        Nearly everyone who watched Japan v Belgium said two things: 1) Best game of the tournament and 2) They applaud Japan for taking it to Belgium.

        As a fan of the KNT it is tough to admit, but Japan made the AFC look good at this World Cup. In the end, you have to give them respect and at least say it is a good thing for the entire continent.

    • We are biased here and can’t give credit to Japan for their great play. I see your point but umm it’s hard for us. I was legitimately celebrating when Chadli scored the winner.

      • Well, speaking for myself, totally unbiased, Iran were the better team in terms of performances in this World Cup. Japan were well organised and coached but were fortuitous (Colombia red card in their first game, for one). Had they gone through to the quarters perhaps it would have been different (and hell of an effort to almost make it) but in an Asian Cup context, no doubt I’m more scared of Iran than Japan.

        • Sorry meant to post this here:

          Yes you guys are biased lol- it’s OK to admit it.
          The entire world thinks Japan did the best out of all the AFC countries. Just talk to anyone. Sure they got lucky to make it out of their group, but after their game against Belgium everyone forgot all about that.
          Not only that, but you could even go so far to say that they did the best out of all non-UEFA and CONMEBOL teams. Yes, Mexico made it to the round of 16 but they never really looked like they had a chance against Brazil.

          Nearly everyone who watched Japan v Belgium said two things: 1) Best game of the tournament and 2) They applaud Japan for taking it to Belgium.

          As a fan of the KNT it is tough to admit, but Japan made the AFC look good at this World Cup. In the end, you have to give them respect and at least say it is a good thing for the entire continent.

          • I definitely was cheering against Japan but I’d like to think I can evaluate the game from an impartial POV after it’s all said and done, and it’s that Japan took their chances well, exposed KDB in defensive midfield but poor game management ruined the day.

            I don’t doubt that Japan grabbed the most headlines and fair play to them, but I maintain (bias or not) that Iran is the best team in Asia. Every ranking model says as much, and tbh, Japan (like any other AFC country) would have a much less chance of holding their own against both Portugal AND Spain and literally coming one Mehdi Taremi miss from winning the damn group.

            Japan beating 10 man Colombia, drawing Senegal and scaring Belgium is excellent, but Iran beating Morocco (I rate highly), losing just 1-0 to Spain and coming *this close* to eliminating Portugal is infinitely better. I’d have no problem giving Japan the credit they’re due, but not more lol. Iran had a far worse group.

          • Fair points all around. TBH I was just surprised by Japan because of their coaching issue and friendlies leading up to the WC, seemed like they weren’t going anywhere. On the other hand, I think all of us here at the Tavern have known how tough Iran has become (maybe one of the only fanbases who could’ve predicted their performance lol). Most everyone wrote them off and thought Spain and Portugal would roll over them. I never once thought that- I won’t go so far as to say that I thought they’d get through, but thought they’d at the very least make it tough. In any other group, I think they would have gotten to the round of 16. And they definitely showed the world why they’re kicking ass in the AFC.
            But at the end of the day, history only remembers results. Not sure anyone outside of fanbases will remember positive group showings if they don’t escape in the end.

  2. Seems unlikely that the groups will go chalk, right? One of Iran/Japan/Australia might try to game their knockout stage placement as the group stage winds down. I could see one of those three teams trying to finish runner up to get on the favorable side of the knockout round bracket a la England this WC.

    Agreed that Iran and its defense give me the greatest cause for concern. I think on a neutral field, Korea can take on Japan and Australia and has a 50-50 chance of winning in either of those matchups, or even better. Against Iran? More like 60-40 or even 70-30. Korea just doesn’t line up against Iran’s style very well.

    In the meantime, can’t wait for the Asian Games!

    • Yeah, you’re right, but we like to pretend. Australia has an easy group, so they’ll most probably not drop (Syria, Palestine, Jordan), but I guess it’s a possibility for Iran (v Iraq) or Japan (v Uzbekistan). I think my point was if things do go chalk, then we’ve got a really good path to the finals.

      Agreed on that last part. We just can’t beat Quieroz’s Iran…

      • I’m pretty excited about the Asian Cup this year. Even though only one team got out of their group, they’ve all improved a lot and at least a few of them will feel momentum after the World Cup.

        Japan got my respect after they played Belgium (sorry!), Iran are tough as nails which the KNT already knows too well, and Australia, even though they’re not that good outside of Asia, pretty much feel like they can beat any Asian team on their day. Hell, even Saudi Arabia won their last World Cup game against Mo Salah, which I definitely did not see coming.
        Add to that the fact that China is trying to show how much they’ve improved along with homefield advantage in the Middle East, and I really think this is gonna be very competitive. And if I’m being honest, we should keep our expectations low… again… so that the team at least feels a sense of accomplishment. I doubt you can consider us to be favorites even with Son and even if Kwon, and Ki both play. But let’s get to it!!! Should be fun to watch

        • Yeah, I think the Asian Cup is going to be loads of fun! Going to be super competitive after what we saw from AFC teams at the World Cup! Also, AFC in general is getting stronger and smaller countries that are making tournament debuts will be interesting to watch.

          In terms of our squad, I agree we should keep our expectations low. The manager of the team will be new (fingers crossed) and still getting to know the squad and how best to make tactics that fit them. It could be a quite experimental squad that is in transition because Ki may retire from international play and Kwon almost certainly will not be fit enough to play. Kwon’s recent video in Dijon shows him in a protective boot and walking extremely gingerly with a crutch. I think the realistic target for a return to full training may be more towards summer 2019. This Achilles injury definitely looks serious and we have to wish him the best and safest recovery. No rushing this.

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