20:00 BST, Monday 11th June, Untersberg-Arena (Grödig, Austria)
South Korea have largely been limping towards Russia. Only one win (2-0 over Honduras) from their last five friendlies have yet to shed any light on their preparations before an opening match against Sweden. With one final game remaining to refine their gameplan, this friendly could prove pivotal for Shin Tae-yong’s team.
Another unfancied team of the tournament will provide the opposition. Senegal could prove to be dark horses over the next week, being they have a good chance of progressing further than any other African side.
They too have only claimed one win from their last five games though, a trend they will hope to break in Austria on Monday evening.
With both teams looking for the relative success of achieving progression to the knock-out stages, a win in this match could be just the confidence boost needed to inject belief into their respective games.
Last Time Out
South Korea 0-0 Bolivia
An under-strength Bolivian team proved equal to Korean efforts on a disappointing night in Innsbruck. Son Heung-min was chosen not to start this match but South Korea still controlled the first half and were by far the dominant side.
With most of the game played in the South American team’s half, Bolivian keeper, Carlos Lampe, proved a barrier which was too strong for the Korean attack.
It was Kim Shin-wook who partnered Hwang Heechan in attack that proved their most likely source of a goal. The 30-year-old striker used his physical presence to prove a constant menace, especially aerially, twice going close to breaking the deadlock in the opening half.
As is the case with many friendly matches, a string of substitutions disrupted the flow of the game soon after the interval. South Korea did perform well in the face of a compact and robust team, however, Bolivia finished as the second-bottom South American side in the CONMEBOL qualification. As such, the Asian side will need to considerably up their performance levels in the coming week on the evidence presented in this match.
Croatia 2-1 Senegal
Senegal were unable to hold onto their lead in Osijek, Croatia, to claim a big scalp heading into the final stages of their preparations. While the first hour of the match had been relatively lifeless, Ismaïla Sarr fired the visitors into a lead from a searching ball played forward just after the interval. The right winger had been one of the more positive players on display but his goal only served to wake Croatia from their slumber.
Luka Modric led the home side’s comeback, setting up Andrej Kramaric’s winning goal after Ivan Perisic had restored parity through a deflected free-kick.
Liverpool’s Sadio Mané almost sent the teams off the field level but his late strike connected with the woodwork rather than net, leaving Senegal to taste their first defeat in nine matches.
South Korea Lineup
Having faced Bolivia in a 4-4-2 formation, there’s still a chance Shin Tae-yong could revert to play a back three/five. Beyond that, many of the same personnel are likely to feature although Jeong Seunghyeon could be brought in for Moon Sunmin to bolster their defence.
Senegal have a host of players in their ranks who currently play for some of Europe’s bigger domestic clubs. From Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly in central defence to Liverpool’s Sadio Mané in attack, they have plenty of individual talent which manager, Aliou Cissé, needs to find a way of gluing together into an effective side.
Key Battle: Park Joo-Ho (South Korea) vs Ismaïla Sarr (Senegal)
As the left-back who plays domestically in the industrial city of Ulsan, South Korea, Park Joo-Ho is one of his nations most gifted players. Not only will he be key to them maintaining a disciplined defensive, he also provides substantial support to their attacks.
Having played for Basel, and Mainz with reasonable amounts of success, he then failed to make a major impact with Borussia Dortmund where he spent two years.
A move to the K League with Ulsan Hyundai has seen him recently become a fan favourite in his home country, something which will be enhanced further still if he can perform to his potential over the coming weeks.
Senegal are strongest on their left flank with Monaco’s Keita Baldé Diao playing just behind Mané. Their right wing, however, is also a significant threat thanks to Stade Rennais’ winger, Sarr.
Having claimed to have rejected a move to Barcelona in favour of guaranteed football, 20-year-old Sarr is a future star in the making. Capable of playing anywhere across the frontline, he scored five goals and made three assists from his 22 league appearances in Ligue 1 last season and could prove a player to watch closely in the coming weeks.
Little to lose
Drawn into Group F along with Germany, Mexico and Sweden, very few people harbour any feelings of hope for the South Koreans plight. Indeed, many of the nation’s fans are still hoping that Dick Advocaat will one day return to manage their team and lift them above their current standards, despite the fact he left this position almost exactly 12 years ago.
Shin Tae-yong, their current manager, has been in the hot-seat for almost one year now. In this time he has so far failed to bring a strong identity into their way of playing.
With a questionable amount of tactical awareness, he has provided a sense of unity between the players, however, it remains to be seen whether they can overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds before them on this strength alone.
Everything to gain
Group H is arguably the only group at these finals who do not have a clear favourite. Further to this, each of the four teams making up this group are unfancied sides from separate continents which adds an extra layer of intrigue to proceedings.
Columbia may look on paper to be favourites, however, they have struggled for consistency for some time now. With Japan in a state of flux and Poland one of the weaker European sides competing at this tournament, Senegal have no reason to fear anyone in the preliminary round.
What they will need to do, however, is focus on their own game. With plenty of talent in their squad, they are still looking to find the formula which makes them tick and is capable of bringing them the goals which look to be within their grasp.
Prediction: South Korea 0-2 Senegal
While South Korea will have little weight of expectation on their shoulders when they finally arrive, this fixture could further sap their optimism ahead of their opening game. With only two goals from their last four games, Senegal needs to find a way of breaking through their opponents. A five-man South Korea defence is likely to be put into their path on Monday, however, Senegal should have enough to breach their resistance and come away with a win to buoy their hopes further ahead of the quickly approaching World Cup.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group B in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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