New generation to face old rivals at World CupKorea will renew its long-standing rivalry with Japan in the first knockout match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland.
Both teams finished in second place in their respective groups. Korea opened Group F play with a 1-0 loss to Portugal, before defeating South Africa 1-0 and Argentina 2-1 to clinch its second consecutive knockout berth. In Group B, Japan had a 3-0 win over Mexico sandwiched between a 1-1 draw with Ecuador and a scoreless draw with Italy.
This will be the first meeting at the U-20 World Cup between Korea and Japan since the round of 16 in 2003, when Japan prevailed 2-1 in extra time.
The winner of this match will take on either Senegal or Nigeria in Saturday’s quarterfinals in Bielsko-Biala, Poland.
Korea’s best performance at the U-20 tournament is the fourth-place showing in Mexico in 1983. They haven’t gone past the quarterfinals since.
The oft-bitter sporting rivalry between the two countries is well-documented. But Korea head coach Chung Jung-yong and his players have tried to downplay the significance of the showdown, saying they simply view Japan as just another opponent and hardly anything more than that.
In his prematch press conference Sunday, Chung stuck to the script.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. The key for us is to analyze our opponents and prepare for the match the best we can,” Chung said at Lublin Stadium. “We’ll concentrate on the match and not worry about the aftermath of the match.”
Korea appears to be rounding into form, as the team followed up a dispiriting opening loss to Portugal with two consecutive victories.
An early defensive breakdown proved costly against Portugal. Against South Africa, Korea was thoroughly outplayed in the first half, with heroics by goalkeeper Lee Gwang-yeon keeping the team in the game, but got its act together over the final 45 minutes for a narrow win.
Korea had its most complete effort of the tournament against Argentina. Needing only a draw to qualify for the knockouts, Korea went ahead and defeated the favored South Americans, with Oh Se-hun and Cho Young-wook scoring a goal apiece. The defense did well to keep Argentina at bay, and Cristian Ferreira’s 88th-minute score did little to dampen the knockout-clinching celebration.
Chung said he was pleased with the way his team has been improving with each group match, and he expects “a difficult match” against Japan.
“They’re a well-organized team, and they put a lot of pressure on you,” he said. “The match could go longer than 90 minutes, and the important thing for us is to do the best we can.”