Korea will take on Bahrain for a quarterfinal spot tonight

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Korea will take on Bahrain for a quarterfinal spot tonight


The Korean football team trains at the NAS Sports Complex in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saturday, to prepare for the AFC Asian Cup round of 16 match against Bahrain. [YONHAP]

From now on, losing a match means going home.

Korea will face Bahrain tonight to start the first round of the knockout stage at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup this week as it aims to keep up the winning atmosphere from the group stage campaign.

Korea — 53rd in the latest FIFA rankings — will take on 113th-ranked Bahrain in the round of 16 at the 2019 Asian Cup at Rashid Stadium in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), tonight. The kickoff time is at 10 p.m.

Korea reached the knockout phase as the Group C winner. The Taeguk Warriors collected three straight wins over the Philippines, Kyrgyzstan and China, scoring four goals and conceding none.

Bahrain took third place in Group A, but was able to advance to the knockout phase with the best performance among third-place finishers at the tournament. For this year’s Asian Cup, where 24 teams compete, the top two teams from each group and the four-best third-place teams advanced to the round of 16.

Bahrain had a 1-1 draw against the UAE and lost 1-0 to Thailand, but managed to collect a 1-0 win over India in their group stage campaign.

Korea boasts 10 wins, four draws and two losses against Bahrain, but when it comes to the Asian Cup, they are even at one win and one loss.

Korea suffered a 2-1 loss to Bahrain in their group stage action at the 2007 Asian Cup, but avenged that defeat four year later with a 2-1 win. Koo Ja-cheol, who is on the current team, scored a double to lead Korea to victory. He later went on to grab the scoring title of the 2011 tournament.

Korea, led by head coach Paulo Bento, will not have midfield general Ki Sung-yueng, who was ruled out of the tournament due to a hamstring injury he sustained against the Philippines on Jan. 7. Attacking midfielder Lee Jae-sung is also doubtful because of a toe injury.

However, Bento’s team collected wins without Ki and Lee in their last two matches, and it is expected to use tactics similar to those shown in the group stage.

Korea is likely to stick to its usual 4-2-3-1 formation, deploying the 2018 KFA Player of the Year Hwang Ui-jo upfront. The Gamba Osaka striker launched 14 shots total in the group stage, tying for the most with Iran’s Sardar Azmoun.

Korea can also expect more from team captain and attacking ace Son Heung-min, who should be in better form than his previous match against China.

The Tottenham Hotspur forward made his tournament debut last Wednesday, just two days after he arrived in the UAE, and played nearly full time against China. But since Korea had five days to prepare for the round of 16 match, Son should have had enough time to recover from his fatigue and return to action in full strength.

Against China, Bento used Son as a central-attacking midfielder behind Hwang and gave him a free-roam role on the pitch. Son may have the same role against Bahrain, focusing more on creating opportunities for his teammates and penetrating open space.

With Ki dropped from the squad, Hwang In-beom will be the engine of the midfield with Jung Woo-young.

In previous matches, Hwang has been effective in facilitating Korea’s attack with his tireless movement to find space. Jung has been the most active passer from the back. He made 301 passes in the group stage, the most among any players at the tournament.

Korea also hopes it can get set-piece goals against Bahrain. Center-back Kim Min-jae has so far netted two goals from corner kicks.

One positive news from Korean defense is that veteran right-back Lee Yong will be able to return to the lineup. He served a one-game suspension against China due to yellow card accumulation.

In the group stage, Korea had a tough time unlocking the defenses of its opponents, which were determined to sit back and build a fortress near the box. Bento’s team will try to dominate ball possession and score goals as early as possible to control the match.

Korea made 1,936 passes total in the group stage, the most among any participants, with an 88 percent passing accuracy.

Bahrain, led by Czech coach Miroslav Soukup, has been using a back-four system at this tournament. Waleed Al Hayam is their leading center-back, making 18 clearances in the group stage.

Korea will need to be aware of wingers Ali Madan and Sayed Dhiya Saeed, who started in Bahrain’s three group stage matches. Veteran midfielder and team captain Ali Al Safi will occupy center-midfield with Komail Al Aswad.

Mohamed Al Romaihi, who scored a goal against the UAE, will likely be Bahrain’s starting striker again. Abdulla Yusuf Helal can also bring energy to Bahrain’s attack. The 25-year-old attacker for the Czech team Bohemians is the only Bahraini on the roster that plays in Europe.

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