Korean team aims for key win against Portugal

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Korean team aims for key win against Portugal

Korea’s young national football team is seeking its second straight victory against Portugal during the U-20 World Cup in Turkey tomorrow morning, Korean time.

Korea, led by coach Lee Kwang-jong, clinched a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Cuba in the opening match on Saturday. Portugal, a two-time champion, will be a much tougher opponent, though. They won the title in 1989 in Saudi Arabia, and in 1991 in Portugal. finishing runner-up in 2011 after a 3-2 loss to Brazil in the final in Colombia.

The Edgar Borges side, which is making its ninth appearance at the U-20 World Cup, beat Nigeria 3-2 on Saturday and is leading Group B at one goal over Korea.

Korea met Portugal twice on the U-20 level and lost both games, including a 1-0 loss during the SBS International Cup held in Shizuoka, Japan, in August. Their latest matchup will be held at Kadir Has Stadium in Kayseri, Turkey, at 3 a.m. tomorrow.

Portugal boasts strong strikers. They scored eight goals in three games at the UEFA U-19 last year.

“We need to strengthen our defense against Portugal,” Lee told reporters after Saturday’s victory over Cuba. “Our players revealed a sizable gap between defense and offense today, and I will try to improve on it before the next game.”

Korea has qualified six successive times for the U-20 World Cup. In 2003, Korea advanced to the Round of 16 but lost 2-1 to Japan in the first knockout stage. Korea’s best result at the U-20 World Cup was a semifinal match during the 1983 Mexico event. Korea reached the quarterfinals in Egypt in 2009.

Lee, who led Korea to the Round of 16 in the previous U-20 World Cup, has returned with an equally strong team. Sixteen of the 21-man Lee squad were winners during the Asian Football Confederation U-19 Championship in November. The U-19 Korean team, also led by Lee, earned Korea’s 12th U-19 title after beating Iraq 4-1 in a penalty shootout in the final.

But two strikers from the team won’t be playing at the U-20 World Cup this year. Moon Chang-jin of the Pohang Steelers is injured and Park Jung-bin of Greuther Furth has a conflicting event with his club.

The Lee squad had a slow start in Saturday’s opening match, allowing Cuba to lead on Maykel Hernandez Reyes’ goal only seven minutes into the game. But Kwon Chang-hoon leveled on a penalty shot in the 51st minute and Ryu Seung-woo netted the winner on a Kang Sang-woo pass in the 83rd minute.

Lee said his team could have played better.

“The players seemed slow in moving in early phase of the game,” Lee said. “Their defense and playing in midfield was not smooth.

BY MOON GWANG-LIP [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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