Korea faces old en­emy Iran in World Cup show­down

The Korea Times - - SPORTS - By John Duer­den john.duer­den@gmail.com

Seoul World Cup Sta­dium is go­ing to be full, or close to full, for the first time in years Thurs­day as Korea takes on Iran in a cru­cial qual­i­fier for the 2018 World Cup.

There are three pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios when it comes to se­cur­ing a place in Rus­sia next sum­mer.

The first sees the Taeguk War­riors de­feat Iran and their clos­est chal­lenger, just a point be­hind in Group A, Uzbek­istan loses in China. That would see huge cel­e­bra­tions at the fi­nal whis­tle as it would mean mis­sion ac­com­plished and fans can start plan­ning trips to Rus­sia.

The sec­ond sees Korea win but Uzbek­istan avoid de­feat. Then it would mean that Shin Tae-yong‘s men would have to go to Uzbek­istan next Tues­day in the fi­nal group game and get at least a tie.

The third sees Korea fail to beat Iran, the Cen­tral Asians vic­to­ri­ous in Wuhan and then a trip to Tashkent where the 2002 World Cup semi­fi­nal­ist would have to win.

Whatever hap­pens against Iran, South Korea will get two chances to go to a ninth suc­ces­sive World Cup. Yet no­body wants to go to the Uzbek cap­i­tal need­ing to win es­pe­cially when the host na­tion would be ex­cited about the chance to ap­pear on the global stage for the first time.

Con­fi­dence would not be high. Af­ter all, Korea has col­lected just 13 points from eight games so far, los­ing three of the last four qual­i­fiers. The latest, a 3-2 de­feat in Qatar in June, cost Uli Stielike his job. In came Shin, the for­mer Olympic and Un­der-20 boss who also led Seong­nam Il­hwa Chunma to the 2010 Asian Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle.

In that fi­nal, Seong­nam de­feated Ira­nian op­po­si­tion but this will be tougher. Iran ar­rived in Korea al­ready qual­i­fied for the World Cup. In eight Group A games, Team Melli is not only un­beaten but have yet to con­cede a sin­gle goal and sits seven points ahead of Korea.

Car­los Queiroz, the for­mer head coach of Real Madrid and Por­tu­gal, was ap­pointed in 2011 and has de­vel­oped Iran into Asia’s num­ber one na­tional team. He has also won his last four meet­ings with Korea 1-0 and there is talk of a jinx de­vel­op­ing.

The home fans will be hop­ing that Iran will take its foot off the gas a little as there is noth­ing for Iran to play for. Yet the visi­tor is start­ing prepa­ra­tion for the World Cup and will see a game against a des­per­ate Korea in front of 60,000 fans as the per­fect way to start.

Korea needs to find a way through the de­fense of the team ranked 24 in the world by FIFA (the host is 49). Much will de­pend on star at­tacker Son He­ung-min. The Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur star scored 21 goals in Eng­land last sea­son and if any­one in Asia has the abil­ity to pen­e­trate the Ira­nian back­line it is Son.

The 25 year-old has de­clared him- self fit and ready to play the full 90 min­utes af­ter re­cov­er­ing from an arm frac­ture dur­ing the loss to Qatar. He played 70 min­utes for Spurs on Sun­day and it could be that jet­lag and travel fa­tigue are greater is­sues.

Cap­tain Ki Sung-yueng was also in­jured in the same Qatar game. The Swansea City mid­fielder has been spend­ing time at home re­cov­er­ing from a knee op­er­a­tion. It re­mains to be seen if he plays.

Korea is go­ing to need all the ex­pe­ri­ence and fire­power it can muster while hop­ing to stop the op­po­si­tion from scor­ing.

A full Seoul World Cup Sta­dium is go­ing to have a night to re­mem­ber, for bet­ter or worse.

Yon­hap

Ira­nian foot­ball team coach Car­los Queiroz, left, and South Korean foot­ball team coach Shin Tae-yong speak dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the Na­tional Foot­ball Cen­ter in Paju, Gyeonggi Prov­ince, Wed­nes­day.

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