S. Korea face Uzbekistan in crucial FIFA World Cup qualifier

November 14, 2016

SEOUL, Nov. 14 (Yonhap) — South Korea face Uzbekistan this week in a crucial match on their road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

South Korea will be the host at Seoul World Cup Stadium at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The two countries will play their fifth match in the final Asian qualifying round for the World Cup.

Both South Korea and Uzbekistan are in Group A, where they also compete against Iran, Qatar, Syria and China.

South Korea, 44th in the latest FIFA rankings, boast a dominant head-to-head record against No. 48 Uzbekistan with nine wins, three losses and one loss. The Taeguk Warriors haven’t lost to the Uzbeks since October 1994.

However, South Koreans are in urgency mode.

South Korea are currently third in the group after collecting seven points from two wins, one draw and one loss. They are two points behind No. 2 seed Uzbekistan, which have three wins and one loss.

Iran, which defeated South Korea 1-0 in Tehran last month, are the group leaders on 10 points with three wins and one draw.

The Asian qualification, which continues until September 2017, reaches its halfway point with this week’s matches. Only the top two teams in the six-nation group will earn automatic berths in the World Cup in Russia, while the third seed needs to go through the playoffs.

South Korea, looking for their ninth straight World Cup appearance, fine-tuned their preparations with a 2-0 victory against Canada last Friday. Head coach Uli Stielike tested various players in the friendly match, and he will need to cut two players from his 25-man squad before taking on Uzbekistan.

South Korea hope key players like Son Heung-min, Ki Sung-yueng and Lee Chung-young recover their form after dealing with injuries. All three players in the English Premier League didn’t feature in the friendly, along with midfielder Lee Jae-sung and left back Hong Chul.

Lee Chung-yong, midfielder for Crystal Palace, had two stitches on his right foot after a teammate stepped on it during practice Wednesday. Although the 28-year-old rejoined team training Saturday, it is still uncertain whether he will be fit to play against Uzbekistan.

Stielike is also seeking brilliance from returning players. Striker Lee Jeong-hyeop, on the national team for the first time since March, scored a goal against Canada, and he is likely to start as target man ahead of towering striker Kim Shin-wook and speedy youngster Hwang Hee-chan.

It will be also interesting to see who will start in full back positions that have been giving headaches to Stielike. Left backs Park Joo-ho and Yun Suk-young each played a half against Canada. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors teammates Kim Chang-soo and Choi Chul-soon will vie for the right back position.


South Korean national football team players train during their practice session at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 13, 2016, two days ahead of their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan.

South Korean national football team players train during their practice session at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 13, 2016, two days ahead of their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan, coached by Samvel Babayan, had a 1-0 victory over Jordan in their friendly match Thursday. The Central Asian team has some players who are familiar with South Korean football.

Among them are Server Djeparov, who played with three different clubs in the top South Korean football league. The 34-year-old midfielder posted 20 goals and 16 assists in his five seasons in the K League Classic. He is also a two-time Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Player of the Year winner.

Uzbekistan forward Alexander Geynrikh also has experienced South Korean football before. The 32-year-old played one season with Suwon Samsung Bluewings after scoring two goals against South Korea at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.

These veterans will help the team’s attack alongside Beijing Guoan striker Igor Sergeev and El Jaish forward Sardor Rashidov. Odil Ahmedov, who is with the Russian club FC Krasnodar, will man the midfield. The 28-year-old is the four-time Uzbekistan footballer of the year.