Korea prepares for Qatari stalling tactics

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Korea prepares for Qatari stalling tactics

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Korean national football team warms up for a practice session on Monday at Suwon Sports Complex in preparation for the World Cup qualifying match against Qatar, which starts 8 p.m. today. [NEWSIS]

The Korean national football team continues their campaign to make a ninth consecutive appearance in the coming World Cup, starting with their match against Qatar today. This will be the third match of the final round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and skipper Uli Stielike and the team expect it will come down to how they cope against Qatar’s time-delaying tactics. But for Kwak Tae-hwi, the 35-year-old veteran defender who will be overseeing how things are run on the field, as long as the Korean side plays its game, the team should be able to emerge with a win regardless of such strategies.

Tonight, Korea, ranked 47th in the FIFA rankings, hosts No. 85 Qatar at Suwon World Cup stadium.

After their lackluster match against Syria, which ended in a 0-0 draw, Korea wants nothing less than a full-on victory against Qatar. But it won’t come easy. In past showdowns against the Korean squad, Qatar has expertly exploited what some call “time-delaying tactics,” in which they deliberately waste time by laying on the ground and complaining of injuries to eventually end the match in a victory or a draw.

This strategy was also used in the recent game by Syria, and Korea failed to get a handle on things on the pitch and its feeble, and frustrated, attempt to run the game ended without a solid result.

“I watched the match against Syria and I felt like the team could not show everything it has,” said Kwak, who was absent during the first and second matches of the final round of the qualifiers. “It was disappointing to see everyone struggling and frustrated until the end.”

“But, blaming an opponent’s time-delaying tactics is nothing but an excuse, I think,” added the veteran defender. “We know some teams from the Middle East like to use such tactics. If Qatar scores the opener, they will play this game as defensively as possible while trying to waste as much time as they can. We need to run this game at our pace and play our own game without being dragged into their match.”

And Kwak’s presence will add that detailed insight to the game, as well as depth of leadership. “Not calling up Kwak for the first two matches was my mistake,” said Stielike. “When the team is in trouble, we need someone with experience to resolve things on the field. This is why I called him up this time.”

“I understand why Stielike brought me on board,” Kwak said. “To unite the team, older players such as me need to step up. Veterans like myself have certain roles to play on and off the field.”

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Other players also have solutions of their own to fend off the Qataris. Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur, who experienced a heartbreaking loss against Honduras during the Rio Olympics, which also practiced time-delaying tactics, said, “We need to shut them down from the get-go, but this kind of game is tricky. Scoring a goal before them is the only way to stop them.”

Choi Kang-hee, the manager of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, concurs. “Prevention is key,” he explained. “Korea must bombard Qatar with everything it has from the start and take the lead. From what we have seen, teams that are trailing do not like to waste time.”

Ki Sung-yueng of Swansea City, also the captain of the team, thinks players with good ball-handling skills must step up. “They will toughen their defense and concentrate their men on their side of the field,” Ki said. “Players such as Son, with good ball-handling skills, will have to take charge. I myself will try my best to help strikers break down the Qatari defense.”

“We’ve got to play offensive football to win at home,” Stielike said. “But we need to be cautious. Qatar has some players with speed and we must be ready for possible counterattacks. We will have to balance our game between offense and defense.”

While the Korean football team will give everything it has on the pitch to present the home crowd with a win, JTBC and JTBC3 FOX Sports will air the game live with state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment such as Spidercams and goal-line cameras to bring the atmosphere of the field to the living rooms of the fans.

A Spidercam, which allows cameras to move vertically and horizontally, captures the movement of players from various angles. It was never used before in Korea until JTBC finally used it to broadcast the match against China in early September.

High-speed cameras will also be installed by the goal line, which will support referees in their decision making and settle controversies as to whether the ball crossed the goal line or not. Furthermore, through “real-time visual tracking technology,” players’ movement and their physical conditions will be analyzed throughout the game. For instance, the distance travelled by Ki throughout the game will be updated instantaneously. When a player scores, the system will show the instantaneous velocity of the shot as well as the player’s movement in the past minute or so, allowing fans to monitor the game in as much detail as if they were playing a video game.

Tonight’s match will be aired live starting 8 p.m.

BY CHOI YONG-JAE, CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]

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