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Paulo Bento says S. Korea not top favorites at 2019 AFC Asian Cup

December 21, 2018

ULSAN, Dec. 20 (Yonhap) — South Korean football coach Paulo Bento said Thursday he doesn’t think his side are the top favorites to win the upcoming continental tournament, despite their impressive performances in recent months.

Bento announced his 23-man roster for the 2019 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to be held between Jan. 5 and Feb. 1. South Korea are in Group C with China, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines.

South Korea has remained undefeated since Bento took over the helm in August. The Portuguese coach has so far collected three wins and three draws in friendly matches that include high-class opponents like Chile and Uruguay.

South Korean national football team head coach Paulo Bento announces his 23-man roster for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at a hotel in Ulsan on Dec. 20, 2018. (Yonhap)
South Korea national football team head coach Paulo Bento (L) speaks at a press conference at a hotel in Ulsan on Dec. 20, 2018. (Yonhap)
South Korea national football team head coach Paulo Bento watches his team's practice match against the South Korean under-23 national team at Ulsan Stadium in Ulsan on Dec. 20, 2018. (Yonhap)

South Korean national football team head coach Paulo Bento announces his 23-man roster for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup at a hotel in Ulsan on Dec. 20, 2018. (Yonhap)

Despite rising expectations for the Asian Cup, Bento said his team should not get too hyped up.

“I can understand that we can have positive expectations for the Asian Cup because we performed well in the last six matches,” Bento said at a press conference at a hotel in the southeastern city of Ulsan. “I’m confident that we’ll play well, but I also know we’re not the only team chasing the title. Other teams will be ready, too. I don’t think we’re the top favorites.”

The 2019 Asian Cup will be the first major tournament with South Korea for Bento, whose contract runs until the end of 2022 FIFA World Cup, should the national team qualify for football’s showpiece event.

Bento, former head coach of the Portuguese national team, said he thinks South Korea are well prepared for the tournament and will try to stay fit until their opening match. Bento’s team is scheduled to depart for the UAE on Saturday.

“We’re analyzing our opponents, and can talk more about it when the tournament is near,” he said. “Our main goal is to execute our style of play and do what we intend to do on the pitch.”

For his 23-man squad, Bento decided to stick with members he tested in recent friendly matches. The only exception was left back Kim Jin-su, who had never played a competitive match under Bento.

“Kim joined my national team for the first time for our training sessions in Ulsan, but I’ve watched him closely,” he said. “We had Park Joo-ho, but I picked Kim because I thought he is better on defense.”

Bento emphasized that he decided to pick players who best fit the team’s style of play and understand his tactics. Therefore, players like Suk Hyun-jun and Moon Seon-min were left out even though they played well in recent friendly matches.

Suk, a striker playing for French side Stade de Reims, failed to make the squad as FC Augsburg’s Ji Dong-won apparently got the nod ahead of him.

“It’s true that Suk showed good attitude and performance, but I thought Ji’s style of play was better for the team,” he said. “For a winger position, I’ve considered the player’s versatility and his skills in tight spaces.”

Bento has been known for his meticulous coaching style, but during the Asian Cup, the 49-year-old said he will try to give freedom to the players off the pitch as much as he can.

“I will give them freedom, but the players will need to be responsible with the freedom that they’re getting,” he said. “I’m not a police officer, so I don’t want to monitor every single player. I’ll try to make the players feel comfortable during the tournament.”

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