Taeguk Warriors have a lot to prove against Lebanon
The Korean national football team will be looking for three points and a shot at redemption when they take on Lebanon in a World Cup qualifier at Suwon World Cup Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The Taeguk Warriors enter Tuesday's game still sore from an embarrassing 0-0 draw with Iraq last week that saw them drop into third place in what was supposed to be a relatively easy Group A in the third round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Korea's draw with Iraq — ranked No. 70 to Korea's No. 36 — was primarily down to an ineffective offense that were unable to do anything with their 15 shots on goal and fell apart in the face of a physical Iraqi defense.
Despite having a hugely international squad — including Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur, Hwang Ui-jo of Bordeaux and Lee Jae-sung of Mainz up front — Korea were repeatedly unable to convert. The addition of Wolverhampton Wanderers' Hwang Hee-chan injected some energy into the team, but the goals never came.
The only saving grace was that Korea's defense — led by Fenerbahce's Kim Min-jae — proved unbreakable, ensuring that the score stayed at 0-0 despite the deficit up front.
Head coach Paulo Bento and the Korean squad will be looking to right those wrongs against Lebanon on Tuesday.
Korea and Lebanon have recent history. The two sides were also drawn in the same group in the second round of Asian qualifiers, with Korea beating Lebanon 2-1 on June 13.
That win earned Korea the all-important three points, but it didn't serve as a ringing endorsement of the Taeguk Warriors ability. Lebanon, ranked No. 93 in the world, drew first blood in the 12th minute and then hang on for the rest of the first half. Korea pulled ahead in the second half, but it was only thanks to an own goal and a penalty.
In that game, finding the back of the net was also a problem. Korea repeatedly broke through the Lebanese defense but struggled to get a shot on target. The defense was also weakened by the absence of Kim, who was forced to sit it out after accumulating two yellow cards in previous games.
Bento's boys on Tuesday will be keen to prove that they can convert. With Korea fielding quite possibly its most internationally successful team ever — at least when it comes to individual club careers — the pressure is on for Bento to convert that talent into a cohesive squad that doesn't just play pretty football, but also scores goals and looks ready for the World Cup next year.
Speaking to press on Sunday, captain Son discussed the poor offensive performance against Iraq.
"I understand the criticism that I didn't take enough shots [against Iraq], and I have to address that," Son was quoted as saying on Yonhap. "I love shooting the ball, and I have confidence in that part of the game. I'll try to be more selfish in that regard. Sometimes, things don't quite go the way I want them to, but I'll continue to work on it."
Korea will take on Lebanon at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]