It’s finally here. Crunch time. Three matches in just under two weeks that will decide (most likely) if Korea will head to Brazil next summer or spend it at home. Lebanon. Uzbekistan. Iran. One away. Two in Korea. Three games with it all to play for.
All right, now that we’ve gotten the dramatics out of the way, let’s talk business. I’ve already put quite a bit down on figurative paper about Choi Kang-Hee’s call-ups, but if you’ve forgotten you can head here to see the whole list. Or here for detailed looks at forwards, midfielders, and the defense.
Also, if you’ve forgotten, at the present time of writing this is what the table looks like.
|#||Team||MP||W||D||L||F||A||D||P||Last 5 matches|
I won’t go into the permutations just yet, as there are far too many to adequately explain them all. Suffice it to say, Korea must beat Lebanon. Anything else will put an extreme amount of pressure on the team to earn maximum points from the two home matches.
Word is slowly starting to filter out of the camp what Choi Kang-Hee is thinking. Initial reports were that he was considering a Lee Dong-Gook/Son Heung-Min partnership, but that is looking increasingly unlikely now. Choi Kang-Hee seems to be rolling the dice and betting on the recent wonderful performances of Lee Chung-Yong. The latest reports are that Choi Kang-Hee is looking to move Lee Chung-Yong out of his normal right wing role, and put him in the hole with Kim Bo-Kyung on the left and Lee Keun-Ho on the right. If he does this it would represent a rare bit of sense on the manager’s part. All three players, Lee Keun-Ho, Lee Chung-Yong, and Kim Bo-Kyung are positionally flexible across the midfield, and I would expect them to rotate spots should all three play. It does present a small risk to put Lee Chung-Yong in the hole as he rarely plays there, and his main skill is certainly as a creator rather than a scorer. Kim Bo-Kyung would seem to be a more optimal choice for the playmaking spot. Or possibly Lee Keun-Ho as he represents a more proven scoring option.
For the two deeper midfield spots, it would appear that the predicted duo of Lee Myeong-Jin and Kim Nam-Il will start with Lee Myeong-Jin given the license to venture forward to help the attack. There also don’t seem to be any surprises in defense (unfortunately) with a backline of Park Joo-Ho, Jung In-Hwan, Kwak Tae-Hwi, and Kim Chang-Soo expected.
Many will likely have wanted to see Son Heung-Min from the start, but it seems he will once again reprise his supersub role. One feels that he will need to start performing and scoring consistently to push out Lee Keun-Ho (most likely). Some many also have called for the likes of Ji Dong-Won, in good form for Augsburg, to start, but given that Lebanon will likely play more defensively, the attacking prowess of Kim Bo-Kyung is the better choice.
A predicted starting XI is:
Lee Keun-Ho / Kim Bo-Kyung / Lee Chung-Yong
Lee Myeong-Jin / Kim Nam-Il
Park Joo-Ho / Jung In-Hwan / Kwak Tae-Hwi / Kim Chang-Soo
Lebanon is currently last in the group, and has only a slim hope for any sort chance at qualification. Anything other than a win sees them eliminated from the automatic places, and depending on Iran’s result, Lebanon could also be eliminated from the playoff spot as well. Which raises the possibility of a more adventurous Lebanese side. Normally one would expect them to sit deeper and defend, but if they know they need a result they may be forced to come out a bit. *Note – The Qatar-Iran match starts 1 hour 15 minutes before Lebanon-South Korea, so both teams will know a bit more about the path they need to take.
There is really nothing of note for the Lebanon side. They don’t have any star players or one particular danger man to watch out for. Most of the players play in the domestic league with a few overseas (2 in the UAE, 1 in China, 1 in the U.S., 1 in Sweden, and 1 in Norway). Midfielder Abbas Atwi is the most capped player with 51 caps. And fellow midfielder Rodas Antar is the current high scorer with 18 goals to his name.
A full list of the call-ups for Lebanon are as follows:
While it would be easy to overlook this match with anticipation against tougher opposition in Uzbekistan and Iran, one only needs to look back a year-and-a-half ago to when we lost in Beirut in the 3rd round of qualifying. The infamous match that cost Cho Kwang-Rae his job, and saddled us with Choi Kang-Hee. While Lebanon isn’t much on paper, they will most likely present a stiffer task on the pitch.
Hopefully some of the key players like Lee Chung-Yong and Kim Bo-Kyung haven’t suffered any rustiness in their somewhat lengthy off period since the Championship ended. Depending on the result from the earlier match, this match could take on a few different looks. If Iran wins, as they are expected to, then both teams will be looking for a win. Korea to help keep the Iranians at bay, and Lebanon to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. This would be ideal for Korea as it would open up space for the attackers to get into, and one would think (and hope) that our defense could cope with the Lebanon attacks. An Iranian draw or loss would likely see a tighter match, particularly from Korea who may feel a draw would be sufficient. A point in Beirut would see us draw level on points with Uzbekistan, and maintain the gap between us and Iran.
That being said, a win would of course be the most desirable outcome. A clear advantage over Uzbekistan going in to the next match in Seoul, and a more space (possibly) over Iran. Despite the continuing hiccups in the team’s performances, and the missing Ki-Koo combo, this group should have what it takes to pick up three points.
Like the last qualifier, I will be live tweeting the match on my old @SKSBlog handle if you’d like to follow along or chat during the match. Due to the time difference the match will start at 2:30AM (June 5) Korean Standard Time.