S. Korea looks to extend WC qualifier win streak against Myanmar

November 10, 2015
South Korea’s Kwon Chang-hoon, center, celebrates with his teammates scoring his side's third goal during the World Cup Group G qualification soccer match between Lebanon and South Korea in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

South Korea’s Kwon Chang-hoon, center, celebrates with his teammates scoring his side’s third goal during the World Cup Group G qualification soccer match between Lebanon and South Korea in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Korea will look to extend their winning streak when they host underdog Myanmar in a World Cup qualifier this week.

The 48th-ranked South Korea will face the 161st-ranked Myanmar at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, at 8 p.m. Thursday. It will be South Korea’s fifth match in Group G in the second round of the Asian qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Coached by Uli Stielike, South Korea have won their first four matches over Myanmar, Laos, Lebanon and Kuwait, scoring 12 goals while giving up none.

In their previous meeting, South Korea defeated Myanmar 2-0 in June.

South Korea are riding an 11-match unbeaten streak. For the year, South Korea have dropped just one match — a 2-1 loss to Australia at the AFC Asian Cup final in January — while winning 14 matches and drawing three.

After Myanmar, South Korea will travel to Laos for another Group G match next Tuesday. It will be South Korea’s final match of the year.

Victories over both countries will give South Korea 16 wins in 2015, the most in a calendar year since 1980.

Though both of the upcoming opponents will be heavy underdogs on paper, Stielike called on his players to be mentally prepared.

“We will need to bear down and concentrate,” the coach said prior to the team practice Monday evening. “We’ve had a good run this year, and we’ll try to end it on a positive note.”

In the second group, there are eight groups of five teams, and the eight group winners, along with four best runners-up, will reach the third round.

South Korea are trying to play in their ninth straight World Cup finals. And Stielike said he has another long-term objective in mind.

“It’s nice to be at 48th on the FIFA rankings,” he said. “But Iran is the first in Asia at No. 43. We will try to overtake Iran as the highest-ranked Asian team.”

Stielike has been deploying an aggressive formation of late, with two wingers and an attacking midfielder supporting a featured striker. Two more midfielders back them up, leaving only one holding midfielder down low with four defensive backs.

It allowed creative midfielders, such as Swansea City’s Ki Sung-yueng, to jump in on offense without compromising defense, and South Korea have been able to dictate the pace.

Son Heung-min will be back on the field after recovering from a foot injury. (Yonhap)

Son Heung-min will be back on the field after recovering from a foot injury. (Yonhap)

Stielike will welcome back Tottenham Hotspurs’ Son Heung-min, who sat out October’s matches with a foot injury. He recently returned from a six-week absence in the Europa League.

Ahead of the team practice Tuesday, Son told reporters he’s happy to be back playing.

“My club didn’t want me to make the trip, worried that I would reinjure my foot,” he said. “But I said I really wanted to go. I’ve been training all along (during the injury layoff) and I don’t think conditioning will be a concern. If I do get to play, I will give everything I have.”

Son said while the two upcoming opponents may be underdogs, he and the rest of South Korea can’t afford to let their guard down.

“Matches like these could be more difficult to play,” he added. “It’s important to get the first goal early. I am looking to score every time I enter a game, whether it’s for the club or the national team, but football isn’t an individual sport.”

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