Taeguk Warriors resume road to Qatar as qualifiers restart

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Taeguk Warriors resume road to Qatar as qualifiers restart

Son Heung-min, left, trains with the Korean football team at the National Football Training Center in Paju, Gyeonggi, on Monday. [YONHAP]

Son Heung-min, left, trains with the Korean football team at the National Football Training Center in Paju, Gyeonggi, on Monday. [YONHAP]

 
The Taeguk Warriors will resume their bid to earn a spot at the 2022 Qatar World Cup as postponed qualifiers resume with a game against Turkmenistan on Saturday.
 
The Korean national team currently leads Group H in the second round of Asian World Cup qualifiers with three games left to play. Korea is first with seven points, followed by Lebanon, also with seven points but behind on goal difference, Turkmenistan with six points, and Sri Lanka with zero. North Korea has withdrawn from the tournament.
 
Topping the group will take Korea on to the third round of qualifiers, while only the four best runner-up teams will advance. Lower-ranked teams will not qualify.
 
Half of the Group H games were played in 2019 before the tournament was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Korea has already played one game each against Lebanon, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka, but is yet to play its home fixtures. All three of those games will be played over the next 10 days.
 
Korea will first take on Turkmenistan at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Goyang Stadium in Goyang, Gyeonggi.
 
Turkmenistan, ranked at No. 130 on the Coca-Cola World Ranking, ought to offer an easy fixture for world No. 39 Korea. In the first leg at Köpetdag Stadium in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on Sept. 10, Korea took a comfortable 2-0 win with goals from Na Sang-ho and Jung Woo-young.
 
The Turkmenistan game should provide an opportunity for the Taeguk Warriors to regain some confidence after their humiliating 3-0 loss to Japan in March.
 
After Turkmenistan, Korea will take on Sri Lanka, the lowest-ranked team in Group H at No. 204, on June 9. 
 
Korea won the first leg against Sri Lanka 8-0 on Oct. 10, 2019, with two goals from captain Son Heung-min, four from Kim Shin-wook and one each from Hwang Hee-chan and Kwon Chang-hoon.
 
The June 9 game should actually be the Sri Lankan leg of the fixture, but because of Covid-19 travel limitations, all games will be played in Korea as the central point within the group. 
 
The final game of the second round is set to be the most challenging, against Lebanon on June 13. The middle eastern club ranks at No. 93 in the world, but was able to hold Korea to a 0-0 draw in their first game on Nov. 14, 2019. The Taeguk Warriors will want to do better this time as they face much tougher challenges before reaching Qatar.
 
Korea is extremely likely to qualify for the third round of the Asian qualifiers, where 12 teams will be sorted into two groups of six, again playing round robin home and away matches. The top two teams from each group will immediately qualify for the World Cup, while the two third-placed teams will play each other for the right to compete in the inter-confederation playoffs.
 
Currently, Japan is the only team to have qualified for the third round.
 
Korea has played at every World Cup since 1986. Their best result came at the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, where the Warriors finished fourth. They have only managed to reach the Round of 16 once since then, in South Africa in 2010, finishing 27th in Rio in 2014 and 19th in Russia in 2018.
 
BY JIM BULLEY   [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr] 
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