With the group stages finished and Group C won with a more convincing performance against China, the Taeguk Warriors will now begin the knockout stage with a matchup against Bahrain, the third-place finisher in Group A. Since the whistle blew at full time in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night, there have been a few storylines to emerge from the Korean camp, so let’s talk about those and how they could affect the match
How will injuries affect the squad?
The most unfortunate story to come out of the Korea camp in the past few days was that Ki Sungyeung’s injury was misdiagnosed and he will not be able to play in any knockout matches. He has returned to Newcastle for recovery from his torn hamstring.
When he initially suffered the injury in the match against the Philippines, it was reported as a minor hamstring injury that would require a week of rest. Ki was eased back into training and all seemed well for a return in the Bahrain match, either as a sub or starter. However, Steve Han put out a great Twitter thread about the reasons behind Ki’s withdrawal from the squad.
In Ki’s case as well as that of Lee Jaesung, who is still not available from his foot injury, the medical staff the KFA brought to the tournament misdiagnosed the injuries and had them resume training prematurely. For Ki, they thought it was a thigh injury. For Lee, a sprained toe. It’s not a great look for your volunteer medical team, who aren’t sports medicine specialists, to inhibit the recovery of two of the squad’s best players.
To go for a silver lining on this, let’s all hope that Paulo Bento, who has made it a point to ask the KFA to modernize other aspects of the national team setup, will push for the medical staff to be upgraded as soon as possible. It was some mixture of cost-cutting and poor planning that put this practice into place and hopefully Bento demands a more professional medical staff after this fiasco.
On the pitch, Hwang Inbeom will be asked to continue his development into the calm and collected midfield distributor/attacker Ki always was in partnership with Jung Wooyoung. The new partnership has done well thus far, but the pressure will only build as we progress towards the final.
Will Kim Moonhwan keep his starting place?
While Lee Yong served his yellow card suspension for the match against China, Kim Moonhwan shined in his place. Kim Moonhwan is a bit more confident in his dribbling and will attempt take-ons or try to wriggle around defenders when moving forward. He’s also not just a fullback that goes for lofted crosses (as evidenced by his early low cross to Son for the penalty), which is Lee Yong’s m.o. for the most part. Where Lee Yong is solid and safe, Kim Moonhwan is more adventurous and creative. Did the China match make an impression on Bento’s rightback selection?
In the group stages, Bahrain performed well in a pretty evenly-matched Group A. They drew their first match with the host UAE after a bit of favorable refereeing led to a late penalty. However, Bahrain impressed in that match and many felt that they would have been deserved winners had the penalty not been given. They lost to Thailand on a Songkrasin screamer but then leapfrogged India into third with a crucial victory on the third matchday. We should have enough to get by them but their group stage performances should be a reminder that they’ll pose danger especially if given time to exploit space around the box.
I think the lineup will be unchanged in the attack since getting Captain Sonny back did kickstart our offense a bit. In defense I hope Kim Moonhwan did convince Bento that he offers something different and useful that Lee Yong doesn’t have in his locker. Let’s hope this lineup continues to develop their chemistry and scores even more than last Wednesday!
Where: Rashid Stadium, Dubai
When: 10 PM KST, 8 AM EST, 5 PM Local Time
Streams: http://jtbc3foxsports.joins.com/ (Seeing an error message atm), bwintv.net, https://www.reddit.com/r/soccerstreams_other
Prediction: I’m going to put some positive vibes out there and say 3-0 Korea. Let’s get it!