S. Korea aim to break clean sheet record in friendly against Thailand

March 25, 2016
South Korean national team soccer team players will be looking to rewrite history against Thailand. (Yonhap)

South Korean national team soccer team players will be looking to rewrite history against Thailand. (Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — After notching a thrilling victory in the year’s first match, the South Korean men’s national football team will be aiming to break a clean sheet record when as they face Thailand in a friendly match on Sunday.

South Korea, led by head coach Uli Stielike, on Thursday beat Lebanon 1-0 to stay perfect in the second Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup with seven straight wins in Group G. The victory also lifted the Taeguk Warriors, which have already booked a spot in the final qualification round, to tie their own record for most consecutive shutout wins at seven. The mark was previously set in 1978 and matched in 1989.

A clean sheet victory over Thailand at Suphachalasai Stadium in Bangkok will deliver South Korea a new record. The team will depart for the Southeast Asian country later Friday.

South Korea, ranked 57th, were supposed to face Kuwait next Tuesday for their final Group G qualifying match, but the match was postponed indefinitely, as Kuwait are still serving FIFA sanctions. The Korea Football Association (KFA) then arranged a friendly match against world No. 118 Thailand.

South Korea lead the head-to-head meetings with 30 wins, seven draws and nine losses. Their latest encounter was in 1998 when South Korea suffered a stunning 2-1 loss in overtime at the quarterfinals of the Bangkok Asian Games.

Stielike hinted that he would test new players or tactics against Thailand, saying that it is right to experiment with new things in friendly matches.

South Korea will also look to solve problems that arose against Lebanon. They struggled to break the tight defense despite having the majority of the ball possession. On defense, South Korea faced some dangerous moments from the opponents’ counter attacks.

The 61-year-old German coach already dropped two players from the original 23-man roster — goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon and midfielder Koo Ja-cheol, who both played against Lebanon. The coach said that he doesn’t feel the need to take all three goalkeepers from the 23-man squad to Thailand, while Koo needs rest after he developed a sore muscle in his left calf in the second half.

Those who didn’t play against Lebanon are likely to get some playing time against Thailand. Midfielders Jung Woo-young, Koh Myong-jin and Ju Se-jong were on the bench Thursday, while defenders Park Joo-ho, Kim Young-gwon, Hong Jeong-ho and Kim Chang-soo also didn’t feature. The absence of goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon means that Kim Seung-gyu and Jung Sung-ryong will have to compete for the starting nod.

For players on the bubble for a spot in the final World Cup qualification round starting in September, time may be running out to make an impression on Stielike. After Thailand, South Korea will play two more friendly matches in June — first against Spain and then against the Czech Republic — before entering the last qualification round.

In particular, strikers are expected to have fierce competition, as Stielike has been using a formation featuring just one forward upfront.

Against Lebanon, Stielike started Seongnam FC’s Hwang Ui-jo, but the 23-year-old missed a couple of decisive chances and failed to score. Instead, Ulsan Hyundai’s Lee Jeong-hyeop, who replaced Hwang in the second half, answered the bell by scoring the winner in extra time. Lee, in his first international match in seven months after suffering a cheekbone fracture, lived up to his moniker as the “crown prince of Stielike.”

FC Porto striker Suk Hyun-jun is also eyeing a start against Thailand. The 24-year-old played only about 10 minutes against Lebanon off the bench. Stielike said Suk hadn’t had enough time to train following a hectic traveling schedule, and he was also in danger of missing the next international match on accumulated yellow cards.