After besting Qatar 3-2, Korean trio squares off against Iran

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After besting Qatar 3-2, Korean trio squares off against Iran


From left: Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur; Ki Sung-yueng of Swansea City; and Ji Dong-won of FC Augsburg. The trio tallied a goal each during the match against Qatar last Thursday and is expected to be at the fore of Korea’s offensive effort once again today against Iran. [NEWSIS]

Once mired in controversy and possible transfer rumors at their clubs in Europe, Bundesliga’s Ji Dong-won of FC Augsburg and Premier League’s Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur and Ki Sung-yueng of Swansea City have survived and come to the rescue for Korea. This was particularly true during the match against Qatar last week in which the three scored one goal each to salvage the team and grab a 3-2 victory. And as the Korean national team takes on Iran in an away game today, it is the trio from Europe that manager Uli Stielike is counting on to lead the team’s offensive effort once more.

Ji scored his 10th international goal against the Qataris on Thursday and it could not have come in a more opportune time.

Korea led the match with a goal by Ki in the 11th minute of the match but Qatar quickly matched the game off a penalty chance five minutes later. Before the half time, Qatar claimed the lead over Korea by netting another goal, leaving the fans and the players utterly dumbfounded.

It was off Ji’s foot that Korea regained its pace. At the outset of the second half, Stielike replaced Suk Hyun-jun with Kim Shin-wook up front, and 55 minutes into the match, Kim’s header bounced off a Qatari defender and Ji exploited the loose ball situation by scoring the equalizer. With the team’s spirit boosted, Korea scored the game winner three minutes later, securing itself a much sought-after victory.

This wasn’t the first time that Ji saved the day for Korea. During the match against China on Sept. 1, Ji tallied two assists with brilliant crosses from the flank. Ji’s teammate Suk said about the 25-year-old Augsburg winger that “Ji has started to play his own style of football and regained the trust of his club’s manager [Dirk Schuster, the skipper of FC Augburg].”

As well pointed out by Suk, Ji saw his situation undergoing a drastic change in the span of a year.

Last season did not exactly pan out well for Ji, who played in just 21 games in the Bundesliga, seven as a starter and 14 as a substitute, during which he only had three shots on target but no goals. He scored his first international goal in four years last October against Jamaica but never had much to show for in club level.

But an opportunity presented itself for Ji when he began seeing more playing time with some of Augsburg players being sidelined due to injuries. “We are a good team,” said Ji. “We piled in six goals in three matches. If we play this game at our own pace, we can score.”

If Ji takes on Korea’s offensive effort on one side of the flank, then there is Son of Spurs on the opposite side.

This year at the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League, Son registered five goals and two assists. As a result of his recent showings, Son was selected as Man of the Match on three occasions in September and finally as the Player of Month according to, a London-based website specializing in in-depth analysis of football data.

And as expected, he brought that momentum to the international stage.

During the Qatari match, Son assisted Ki’s opener in the first half and eventually fired home a goal himself later, netting the game winner. His Premier League club Spurs reported the goal in its official website saying “Sonny’s [Son’s nickname in London] at it again on South Korea Duty.”

For Son, who is in red-hot form right now in England as well as on the international stage, the match against Qatar marked the 50th international match of his career, reaching the career milestone in less than six years since his international debut.

While Son is in the limelight right now, his season did not start out so well. After the Rio Olympics, during which Son, who played as a wild-card, suffered a heartbreaking loss to Honduras in the playoffs, there were rumors of a possible transfer. He seemed out of favor by his boss, Mauricio Pochettino, and his position with Spurs seemed precarious at best. But he mended his relations with his skipper and climbed up as a clear favorite to fill in the void left by Harry Kane, English center forward for Spurs who has been absent due to injury. Son reciprocated the given chances with results.

Ji and Son may be the talent to bring in attacks from the either side, but at the center stands Ki, the captain of Korean national team, overseeing how things are run on the pitch.

In the Qatari match, Ki was seen doing his duty as the playmaker of the team, controlling the pace of Korea’s attack and feeding the ball to attackers such as Ji and Son when necessary. As the engine of the squad, he did not shy away from taking a shot himself, finding the back of the Qatari net early in the game.

In his club, Swansea City, Ki has had a tough break, with his boots hanging dry much of the time. After Francesco Guidolin became the new boss of Swansea, Ki’s playing time plummeted substantially. The discord between Guidolin and Ki culminated in mid-September this year when Ki refused to shake hands with Guidolin after he was substituted out of the game when Swansea was down 1-0 to Southampton.

But recently, Swansea replaced Guidolin with the American Bob Bradley, an auspicious signal for Ki, who looks to have a fresh start, and his goal against Qatar will play positively when he returns to England to rejoin Swansea. “I’ve always tried to do more than my share for the team but I think I failed the fans in that regard in the past,” said Ki before the Qatari match. Indeed, he’s done more than his share during the match, and this time around, he hopes to bring a win from Tehran, which has always eluded Korea.

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