Coach relieved as Korea set to face Jordan

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Coach relieved as Korea set to face Jordan

Korea will meet Jordan tomorrow in the quarterfinals of the Olympic men’s football qualifying tournament in Qatar.

The young Taegeuk Warriors clinched the top spot in Group C at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship, which also serves as the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Korea was scheduled to face the runner-up from Group D.

The standing of Group D was finalized on Thursday (Korean time). While the United Arab Emirates beat Vietnam 3-2 and won the group with two wins and one draw, Jordan grabbed the last ticket to the knockout stage following their 0-0 draw against Australia. Jordan finished the group at five points, with one win and two draws, edging Australia who are now eliminated with one win, one draw and one loss.

Korea will face Jordan at Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on 10:30 p.m. Saturday (Korean time).

Korea Under-23 team football coach Shin Tae-yong previously said the team will prepare for the quarterfinals match as if it was the tournament final because a single loss would mean their bid for eighth consecutive appearance at the Olympics would be gone.

In this 16-nation tournament, only the top three teams will be able to earn their ticket to Brazil. Korea has won their last 32 matches in the final round of Olympic qualifying matches since 1992, collecting 24 wins and eight draws.

Shin, who watched the Jordan-Australia match from the stands on Thursday, said the team is confident taking on Jordan. The 45-year-old coach previously said the country wants to avoid Australia.

“From our point of view, it is true that Jordan is a more comfortable opponent than Australia, so I’m a little relieved,” Shin said on Thursday. “I couldn’t see a threatening offense, although they have players with good skills. We are not worried.”

In the Under-23 level, Korea has collected two wins and three draws against Jordan, but the team suffered a defeat in the penalty shootout - which counts as a draw - in the 2014 AFC U-22 Championship.

The match against Jordan is expected to be a traditional game of offense versus defense. Korea has scored eight goals in their three group matches, including a 5-0 victory over Yemen, and is the second top scoring team in this tournament behind host Qatar. Jordan, on the other hand, has allowed only one goal in their three group matches.

Shin said that not allowing the first goal to Jordan will be key in their quarterfinals.

“If we allow them to score the first goal, it may be difficult to break their defense the rest of the game,” Shin said. “But if we can get the first goal in the first half, we should be able to score two or three more goals in the second half.”

Shin, who previously led Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma to the AFC Champions League title in 2010, has been using different formations in all three previous matches. Although the tactics for Jordan match will be kept secret, what looks to be certain is that the coach will field his best players.

Suwon Samsung Bluewings’ Kwon Chang-hoon, who got a hat-trick and an assist against Yemen, and Pohang Steelers’ youngster Moon Chang-jin, who bagged two goals against Uzbekistan, are set to start in midfield with Bayer Leverkusen’s Ryu Seung-woo, who also scored a goal against Yemen.

Hwang Hee-chan, who plays for Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg, is likely to start up front. The 19-year-old striker has yet to score in this tournament, but has been delivering assists to teammates with his formidable dribbling techniques.

Shin, who also serves as an assistant coach to the senior football team under Uli Stielike, can also use Jeju United forward Kim Hyun if the team needs more power in the air. The 1.9-meter striker notched a goal against Iraq with a header.

“I have some ideas on how to break the opponent’s defense,” he said. “Jordan is the type of opponent where we can definitely make some attacking moves.”

If South Korea reaches the semifinals, the team will meet the winner of Qatar-North Korea matchup on Tuesday at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha.

On the other side, Japan takes on Iran, and the UAE faces Iraq, who finished second in Group C after Korea due to goal differential, in the quarter finals.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]

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