Battle of Korean-born coaches set in S. Korea-Indonesia duel at Olympic football qualifiers

April 24, 2024

It will be a battle of two Korean-born tacticians when South Korea take on Indonesia in their first knockout match at the Olympic men’s football qualifiers in Qatar this week.

The two teams will square off in the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha. The kick off is 8:30 p.m. Thursday local time, or 2:30 a.m. Friday in Seoul.

This tournament is also the AFC qualifying tournament for the Paris Olympics. The top three teams — the two finalists and the winner of the third-place match — will punch their tickets to France, while the fourth-place team will face Guinea in an intercontinental playoff.

Coached by Hwang Sun-hong, South Korea ran the table in Group B, beating the United Arab Emirates, China and Japan in succession while scoring four goals and conceding none. Indonesia, with Shin Tae-yong at the helm, finished second in Group A, after losing to Qatar 2-0 but beating Australia 1-0 and Jordan 4-1.

South Korea will try to extend their Olympic appearance streak to 10. Indonesia will seek a return to the Olympics for the first time since their only appearance in 1956.

Hwang and Shin are widely considered among the greatest players in South Korean football history, with Hwang enjoying more international success and Shin making his name in the domestic K League.

Hwang, 55, ranks second on the all-time national team scoring list with 50 goals. He is 15th overall with 103 caps.

Shin, 53, won the K League MVP awards in 1995 and 2001, and was the first player to be voted the MVP multiple times in league history. He helped his Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma club win six league championships and he also claimed the scoring title in 1996 despite being a midfielder.

They coached against each other in the K League from 2009 to 2012, with Hwang’s Busan IPark and Pohang Steelers registering three wins, four draws and one loss against Shin’s Seongnam.

Shin coached South Korea at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, where his team stunned the defending champions Germany 2-0 in the group stage.

Hwang has worked with the under-23 national team for a few years but has not yet been in charge of the senior squad, except on a caretaker basis for two World Cup qualifying matches last month.

Hwang is believed to have the inside track on the vacant senior national team job, but failing to qualify for the Olympics with the U-23 squad could be a huge blow to whatever chances Hwang may have.

Shin has taken his upstart Indonesia team to the knockout stage for the first time at this biennial AFC tournament.

Shin called up four foreign-born players of Indonesian descent for this tournament, including midfielder Ivar Jenner, forward Rafael Struick, and defenders Nathan Tjoe-A-On and Justin Hubner.

This quartet and a few other players also represented Indonesia at the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar earlier this year, getting a taste of senior competition before jumping into the Olympic qualifiers. This gives Indonesia an edge in experience over South Korea, with only forward Kang Sung-jin, forward Jeong Sang-bin and midfielder Eom Ji-sung having logged a combined four caps for the senior side.

All three have played big minutes for Hwang so far, but forward Lee Young-jun has been the one-man engine for the offense, having netted three of the team’s four goals so far.

But Lee did not play in the final group match against Japan. South Korea had already secured a knockout berth before that rival showdown, and Hwang rested Lee and several other regulars ahead of the quarterfinals.