S. Korea to stick to same philosophy at regional football tournament

December 5, 2019

Despite missing some big names for an upcoming regional football tournament, South Korea head coach Paulo Bento isn’t about to change his approach.

With his team preparing for the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Football Championship, Bento said Thursday the goal is to stay consistent with the team’s playing style.

“We’ll maintain our philosophy and try to play the best we can,” Bento said before the start of practice at Ulsan Stadium in Ulsan, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul. “This is an important competition. We’ll try to figure out how some of the new faces blend in with the rest of the team. No matter which tournament you play, you have to work to get the best result possible.”

Paulo Bento, head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, speaks to reporters before practice at Ulsan Stadium in Ulsan, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Dec. 5, 2019. (Yonhap)

Paulo Bento, head coach of the South Korean men’s national football team, speaks to reporters before practice at Ulsan Stadium in Ulsan, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Dec. 5, 2019. (Yonhap)

The E-1 championship kicks off next Tuesday with men’s and women’s matches in Busan, just south of Ulsan. The South Korean men will play their first match next Wednesday against Hong Kong, and then China on Dec. 15. The men’s final match will be against Japan on Dec. 18. All men’s matches will be played at Busan Asiad Main Stadium at 7:30 p.m.

South Korea will be missing Europe-based stars such as Tottenham Hotspur attacking ace Son Heung-min and Red Bull Salzburg forward Hwang Hee-chan. The E-1 event isn’t part of FIFA’s international match calendar, meaning foreign clubs aren’t obliged to release their South Korean players for the occasion.

Bento has instead filled his team mostly with players from leagues in South Korea, China and Japan, the lone exception being Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Hwang In-beom.

South Korea will go for their third straight men’s title and their fifth overall. No country has pulled off a three-peat in tournament history, which dates back to 2003.

Asked about the bid for a third consecutive title, Bento said, “The biggest motivation for me is to continue to develop this team. And if it brings the results and gives us the third straight championship, then so much the better.”

South Korea are winless in their past three matches. They played back-to-back scoreless draws in the World Cup qualifying tournament, first against North Korea on Oct. 15 and against Lebanon on Nov. 14. Then on Nov. 19, they fell to Brazil 3-0 in a friendly for the most lopsided defeat since Bento took the helm last fall.

“We have a far different team this time around than those recent matches, and so it’s hard to make comparisons,” Bento said, when asked how he’s going to get the team out of the funk. “The important thing is to try to help the new players fit in and play well.”

At No. 41, South Korea are the second-highest ranked team in the tournament, behind Japan (No. 28) but ahead of China (No. 75) and Hong Kong (No. 139).

South Korea boast superior head-to-head records against all three opponents: 41-23-14 (wins-draws-losses) against Japan, 19-13-2 against China and 20-5-2 against Hong Kong.

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