Cho says speed key in Kuwait clash
Korea will raise the tempo against Kuwait tonight as it goes hunting for its second win in five days in World Cup qualifying with the same line-up that thrashed Lebanon 6-0 on Friday.
“Kuwait is not familiar with playing at a fast tempo,” said head coach Cho Kwang-rae. “If we can play our style, I think we can get a decent result.”
Cho has already cautioned against complacency, telling his wards that the Arab nation is no longer the minnow that Korea swatted away with ease in their three latest encounters.
He singled out 21-year-old striker Yousef Nasser, who netted twice against the United Arab Emirates to help Kuwait win its first qualifier 3-2 last week, as a potential game-changer. Nasser has 17 goals from 22 international appearances.
“Nasser has speed and good shooting skills,” Cho told Ilgan Sports, the JoongAng Ilbo’s daily sports newspaper. “I’m thinking about assigning one of our centre-backs to keep a close mark on him.”
Meanwhile, Korea’s attack will again be led by new Arsenal signing Park Chu-young, Ji Dong-won of Sunderland, also in the English Premier League, and Nam Tae-hee. Attacking midfielder Koo Ja-cheol will play a supporting role.
“Ji created space for Park and Nam to penetrate by pinning down the defenders,” Cho said. “He also took an active role defensively when the team was on the back foot.”
Park conceded he was not in top form and agreed that humility could be the key to success tonight.
“People are saying Kuwait is on the rise, but we are also good,” he said. “As long as we don’t get carried away or behave too arrogant, I think we can win.”
The third-round regional qualifying match is scheduled to kick off at 2 a.m. on Wednesday (Korean Standard Time) at the Friendship and Peace Stadium in Kuwait City.
Although the two sides are tied in head-to-head encounters (8-3-8), Korea is more than 60 places higher, at 33rd, in the FIFA rankings. Yet Kuwait has raised it game in recent years, sweeping both the West Asian Cup and Gulf Cup last year.
As well as Nasser, pundits are pointing to attacking midfielder Bader Al-Mutwa as the man Korea most needs to control. The 26-year-old has scored 37 times in 107 games for his country and has been a candidate for Footballer of the Year for the last two years by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Climate is another factor that could unsettle Korea with daily maximum temperatures in Kuwait City at this time of the year being around 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Then there is the pitch, which has longer grass than at regular stadiums in Korea, thus adding another variable into the mix. To combat this, some of the players reportedly brought boots with longer studs for tonight’s match.
Reporters said Cho urged players to shorten their time on the ball and speed up the rhythm of the game.
By Joo Kyung-don [email@example.com]