Team Korea has chance to inflict more pain on China

The Korean national football team trains at Goyang Stadium in Gyeonggi Province, Saturday. Yonhap

For a while, a smile is back on the face of Korean football. Winning in Singapore is nothing special. No disrespect to the Southeast Asian nation, but Thursday’s World Cup qualifier went as well as it could have.

Firstly, it was a 7-0 thrashing. Son Heung-min scored twice, as did Lee Kang-in with the first goal from the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder, a thing of beauty. Another big star, Hwang Hee-chan scored and all was well.

More importantly, the win confirmed Korea’s place in the final round of qualification for the 2026 World Cup. That starts in September when the 18 remaining teams compete for Asia’s eight places.

There is one game remaining in this round, and that is against China in Seoul on Tuesday.

“Just as we gave our fans joy with the win over Singapore, we would all like to finish this round well on our home pitch,” interim coach Kim Do-hoon said as the team returned home from a sold-out Singapore National Stadium. “It’s not just myself. Everyone on the team feels the same.”

Usually in this situation, there would be a certain relaxation going into the final group game when the group is already won. For Korea now, the priority is the next stage and an extra match is a chance to look at some new players and, perhaps, tactics.

But this may be different. China heads to Seoul with their World Cup hopes in the balance. They have eight points from five games, just three above Thailand, the rival for the second spot which also provides entry to the final stage of qualification. Thailand hosts Singapore in Bangkok and it is assumed the team will win quite comfortably. If so, then if China loses in Seoul, then the dream of only a second World Cup is over.

Korea would surely relish the chance to end those Chinese hopes. There is a real rivalry between the two teams even if it is a lopsided one. In 37 meetings between the nations, China has won just twice. The first was in 2010 in the East Asian Championship when Korea was without its European-based stars. The real victory was in 2017 during qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

China has never won in Korea, and if that changed on Tuesday, it would be one of the best-ever results in the country’s history.

The odds are not great. In the earlier fixture in Shenzhen in November, Korea won 3-0. China has been struggling and was held to a 추천 1-1 draw against Thailand in Shenyang on Thursday when a victory would have been enough to advance to the next stage. It was a result declared as being unacceptable by the People’s Daily.

It leaves China in with a tough task on Tuesday as coach Branko Ivankovic, a Croatian with a lot of experience in charge of Iran and Oman, knows.

“For us, the qualifying tournament isn’t over yet,” Ivankovic said. “We will go all out in the next match and try to qualify for the next round. There is still a lot of football to be played, and we will go to South Korea and give it all we have.”

Korea is unlikely to be taking it easy and will not mind ending China’s World Cup chances in front of 60,000 plus fans in Seoul.

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