13:10 BST, Thursday 7 June, Tivoli Stadion (Innsbruck, Austria)
South Korea will meet South American nation Bolivia in the Austrian Alps as they look to gather momentum heading into the World Cup.
Unlike most other qualified nations, the South Koreans have elected to play four friendlies in the run-up to the tournament. While four fixtures may be seen as a good preparation-focused move, it could also turn out to be a needless exposure to fatigue and injury.
Having played two friendlies on home soil, which included a 2-0 victory over Honduras and a 1-3 defeat to Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Korea will now play twice in the shadows of the idyllic Austrian hills.
Conversely, Bolivia’s schedule has been rather quiet. Having failed to reach the World Cup in South America’s CONMEBOL region, a campaign which ended in the middle of October, Bolivia have only played three times, picking up two defeats and a draw in those games.
Bolivia were comfortably beaten by the USA, 3-0, last time out and they haven’t won since beating Chile in September.
Having to travel to Bolivia is the stuff of nightmares for opposition teams; the notoriously thin air giving the home side a distinct advantage. Their away form, though, isn’t great. Their last victory on the road in a competitive match was back in June 2015.
Typically only facing teams from their own region, Bolivia haven’t played against a side outside the Americas for four years.
The South Koreans have had a slightly more enjoyable time of late. Their qualification to the tournament through the AFC region caused little trouble. Entering qualifying in the second round of three, they topped their group, advancing to the next stage.
In the final round, they faced Iran, Syria, Uzbekistan, China PR and Qatar where they finished in the second automatic qualifying spot after 10 home-and-away games.
South Korea Lineup
With four games in the space of 10 days, manager Shin Tae-yong will be fearful of player fatigue and heightened injury risk.
Star man Son Heung-min will be an integral part of his nation’s plans in Russia and may see limited playing time here after featuring for the full 90 minutes in the defeat to Bosnia and Herzegovina last time out.
With Bolivia only ever having qualified for the World Cup three times, the last of which was in 1994, interim head coach Cesar Farias won’t have any selection dilemmas.
Only six of the current players involved in the national team set-up ply their trade outside the Bolivian national league.
Key Battle: Son Heung-min (South Korea) vs Ronald Raldes (Bolivia)
The Tottenham star is by far and away the biggest name in the South Korean side and will shoulder most of the responsibility over the summer.
Son’s ability to create chances, provide dangerous crosses and score goals himself makes him an all-around threat for any defence.
Most of the Bolivian defence is young and, with their geographical advantage, fit. The exception is 37-year-old and captain Raldes who is his country’s most capped player with 100.
His experience will be key to nullifying the threat of Son and other quick wide players.
Can the Koreans gather momentum for Russia?
South Korea are used to being on the world stage: they have qualified for every World Cup since the 1986 edition in Mexico. At their home tournament, they were beaten semi-finalists. Since then, however, they have only advanced from the group stages once.
Despite being halfway through their run of warm-up fixtures, they may still have a little way to go until they feel ready for the big stage, with only two wins in their last five.
A meeting with Senegal, who have also qualified for the tournament, will be their final chance to answer all the questions. Having been drawn in a group with champions Germany, Mexico and Sweden, the Asian nation will be up against it once more.
Prediction: South Korea 1-0 Bolivia
Neither side is in fantastic form, although Bolivia away from their home country are a much weaker animal.
The South Koreans will need to get a win here to avoid the potential for going into the tournament lacking in confidence but with the heavy schedule, team rotation may prevent any great amount of game time for their better players.
Bolivia will make it hard for the Koreans to break them down and they may be helped by the familiar surroundings of a slightly elevated pitch. Can they sneak a draw…?
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?