S. Korea – Mexico square off today

January 29, 2014
Mexico national football team coach Miguel Herrera(left), Korea national football team coach Hong Myungbo(right). (Yonhap)

Mexico national football team coach Miguel Herrera(left), Korea national football team coach Hong Myungbo(right). (Yonhap)

Fresh off a win over Costa Rica, the South Korean men’s national football team will face an even bigger test against Mexico on Wednesday.

South Korea, ranked 53rd, will go up against the 21st-ranked Mexico at 6 p.m. (PST) Wednesday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, or 11 a.m. Thursday in South Korea.

It will be the second of three tune-up matches for South Korea in the United States ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in June. South Korea will next face the U.S. at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Carson, Calif., or 7 a.m. on Sunday in Seoul.

Last Saturday, South Korea defeated the 32nd-ranked Costa Rica 1-0, thanks to Kim Shin-wook’s winner in the 10th minute. Costa Rica didn’t offer much of a test for South Korea, failing to register a shot on net. Starting goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, battling the 2010 World Cup veteran Jung Sung-ryong for the No. 1 job, hardly broke a sweat.

Mexico, which has also qualified for this year’s World Cup, will feature two grizzled members of its 2010 World Cup squad, defenders Rafael Marquez and Francisco Javier Rodriguez. They have played 204 international matches combined.

Against Costa Rica, South Korean head coach Hong Myung-bo used a young lineup, with the average age of the starting 11 around 25 years old, while leaving World Cup veterans, including winger Yeom Ki-hun and midfielder Lee Ho, on the bench.

With only three days off since that match, Hong could use a vastly different starting lineup to give well-rested players a chance.

For the ongoing camp, which started in Brazil on Jan. 13, Hong only called up players from leagues in South Korea, Japan and China. European clubs weren’t obliged to release their South Korean players for the occasion.

South Korea could name around 10 players from Europe and Middle Eastern leagues who didn’t make the trip this time to its World Cup roster. That will leave about a dozen or so places up for grabs for the ones that are here. Hong has often said no player is assured a roster spot for the World Cup.

Hong also told reporters in Los Angeles on Monday that he was pleased with his players’ progress at the camp.

“I value players’ work ethic and approach to our training more highly than results at these friendly matches,” he said. “In that regard, I’d like to praise our players for a job well done. Every member of our staff has been pleasantly surprised by their hard work. I am satisfied with what we’ve done so far, and I am grateful for the players’ efforts.”

At a pre-match press conference on Tuesday at the Alamodome, Hong said he would make some changes to his starting lineup.

Four days after playing Australia during the East Asian Cup last July, Hong changed nine of the 11 players in the starting lineup against China. Hong said the change this time won’t be as drastic, but added “a few positions” will have new faces.

“It seems like Mexico has several players who will compete at the World Cup, and it should be a good test for us,” the coach said. “It’s difficult to tell how many of the players we have now will also be at the World Cup. We have some young players today and it will be a great learning experience for them to play a team like Mexico.”

Hong added he will look for his defensive backs and midfielders to improve their chemistry, saying they lacked cohesion against Costa Rica.

South Korea has played Mexico 11 times, winning four, losing five and drawing two. Most recently, South Korea beat Mexico 1-0 in Los Angeles in February 2006, a tune-up match before the World Cup in Germany that same year.

In Wednesday’s contest, South Korea will use the official World Cup match ball, Brazuka, for the first time in competition.

South Koreans trained with the ball in Brazil two weeks ago and said the ball may favor offensive players.

“The way it comes off your feet and your head, I think it will be difficult for goalkeepers to judge the ball’s flight and trajectory,” said forward Kim Shin-wook. “I think it will work to forwards’ advantage.”

Jung Sung-ryong, the netminder who played at the 2010 World Cup, agreed with Kim. Jung said Jabulani, the official ball four years ago, was more difficult to handle, but Brazuka should still give goalkeepers fits. (Yonhap)