As Korea prepares for their Asian Cup Round of 16 match with Bahrain next week, there’s breaking news in: Lee Chung-yong is temporarily leaving the KNT camp and flying today back to Korea due to unspecified family reasons. The KNT will be set to disclose the news of Lee’s departure shortly (around 10am Korea time/ 6pm EST US). The detail surrounding the family related reason for departure has not been disclosed. On Sunday, Lee will fly back to the UAE and rejoin his compatriots at the KNT camp.
Lee Chung-yong has played all three games in the group stage of the Asian Cup for Korea; his 2nd half substitution in the initial match against the Philippines sparked the wayward offense, with a key pass delivered to Hwang Hee-chan that set things in motion for Hwang Ui-jo to score what would be the only goal of the game. He continued to be effective for Korea, and a candidate for man of the match in Korea’s victory against China – the result sent Korea to the top of Group C. It’s too early to speculate how this affects the training and prep before game time on Tuesday, however, as Asian Cup tournament logistics go, if a pivotal player such as Lee has to go back to Korea, there might not be a better time than now. Having topped Group C, Korea has 3 added advantages: less travel distances and more time to rest and recover (5 days vs 3 had they only retained runner-up status in the group). The third is -on paper – a less challenging knock out bracket ahead. Bahrain wound up advancing as the 3rd place team in Group A – behind hosts UAE and Thailand (who sacked their manager after a shocking loss to India in the tournament).
Should Lee get rotated out for the start of the knockout phase, there are capable wingers available. Dare we mention Lee Seung-woo? It shouldn’t be a controversial pick, but there’s a growing consensus that for some reason, Korea’s manager Paulo Bento doesn’t seem to rate the ex-Barca academy and current Hellas Verona attacking midfielder – having only brought him on Korea’s Asian Cup squad at the last minute after Na Sang-ho pulled out with an injury.
You can see from Korea’s side of the bracket, if they pass the Round of 16 test with Bahrain, they will face the winner between Iraq and Qatar in the quarterfinal, then either the UAE, Kyrgyzstan, Australia or Uzbekistan in the semifinals.
We’ll be back to update and have a long overdue kickaround as much is happening in Korean football at the moment (including a 3:0 friendly victory by the Korean Women’s team over Romania).