Bento to stick with the game plan against unfamiliar foeWith a World Cup qualifying match against an unfamiliar opponent coming up, Korea men’s football head coach Paulo Bento said Monday he isn’t about to make any changes.
The match against Turkmenistan will be Korea’s first in the second round of the Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
On paper, this should be a cakewalk for Korea, ranked No. 37 in the world, 95 spots above Turkmenistan. But Bento guarded against overconfidence, saying there will be an element of surprise against Turkmenistan under their new coach.
Croatian coach Ante Mise took over Turkmenistan in March and they haven’t played a match under the new boss.
“We have analyzed some of their earlier matches but it’s difficult to predict how they’ll come out against us because we haven’t seen them play under the new coach,” Bento told reporters at Incheon International Airport. “But we’ll stick to our own philosophy and strategies and play the way we always have played.”
Turkmenistan will play their first World Cup qualifier on Thursday against Sri Lanka, which Bento said will offer his team a much-needed update on where Turkmenistan stands now.
The World Cup qualifiers will represent the most meaningful matches for Bento since the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in January this year. The Portuguese-born coach acknowledged there’s more intensity within the team than there had been before recent friendly matches.
The trick for Bento is to ensure every player is on the same level in terms of their fitness and match readiness. Seven of the 25 players ply their trade in Europe, where the new season is still very young. And some Korean players have joined new clubs for this season and they’re still trying to get their bearings. Then there are other national team players based in Korea or other Asian leagues and those players are already in midseason form.
“We’ll work closely with our medical team to make sure everyone will be in the best physical condition possible,” Bento said. “We have to put them in a position to succeed and to maximize their skills.”
Bento initially named 26 players to the team but veteran midfielder Lee Chung-yong has been cut due to a knee injury suffered while playing for his German side, VfL Bochum, last month. Bento didn’t name any replacement.
Of the remaining 25 players, 16 boarded the plane bound for Istanbul on Monday. The rest of the team who are based in Europe, including Tottenham Hotspur attacker Son Heung-min, will join the national team in Turkey next week.
Bento’s roster for the September friendly also includes Kim Shin-wook of Shanghai Greenland Shenhua in the Chinese Super League, making his return to the national team for the first time since Bento took the helm last fall.
“I am excited to be back on the national team, but I’ve been worrying constantly about my role,” Kim told reporters at Incheon International Airport on Monday. “My biggest concern now is, ‘How can I help this team?’” Kim added. “I hope I can make the most of my talent and help us get two wins on this trip.”
There are eight groups of five teams in the second round. The eight group winners plus the four best runners-up will advance to the third round. But if Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, win their group or finish as one of the four best No. 2 seeds, then the fifth-best runners-up will qualify for the third round.
South Korea will also face Lebanon (No. 87), North Korea (No. 118) and Sri Lanka (No. 200) in Group H, as they seek to qualify for their 10th consecutive World Cup.