For the fifth Asian Cup in succession, South Korea will meet Iran at the quarter final stage.
Iran won 6-2 (a scoreline we all enjoy) in 1996, 2-1 in 2000, and 4-3 in 2004. In the last competition in 2007, Korea won on penalties.
This year’s game may have slightly more interest to some Celtic fans with Ki SeungYong and Cha DuRi almost certain starters for Korea. They have started all three games so far – a 2-1 victory over Bahrain, a 1-1 draw with Australia and a 4-1 win over India.
As a team Korea have played well but have been wasteful in front of goal. Their 4-1 win over India really should have been double figures.
Cha has looked pretty impressive in the games and his whole-hearted, all action style is proving popular with Korean fans. He has bombed up and down the right touchline in all 3 games, putting in some good crosses and making some fine last-ditch challenges, most notably against Tim Cahill in the Korea-Australia match.
I’d go so far as to suggest his physique and style have intimidated some of his opponents thus far. I can’t claim to have followed Cha’s career closely but he seems very much a confidence player and Celtic may well benefit from Korea, and Cha, doing well in the Asian cup.
In my opinion, Ki’s contribution has been less impressive but maybe understandably so. He has played mostly as a holding midfielder with wide players Park JiSung (Man Utd), Lee ChungYong (Bolton) and midfield sensation Koo JaCheol charged with supporting the front man.
I am a big believer in Ki; he has toughened up since going to Scotland and ultimately he wants to play the right way and his passing ability can unlock any defence but I feel this holding role doesn’t suit him (he certainly didn’t make his name at FC Seoul as a holding midfielder) and his desire to get the ball down, pick passes and avoid ‘hoofing’ it has seen him robbed of the ball on a couple of occasions.
Looking at Celtic, Kayal has a firm grasp on one of the midfield berths and I really do believe Ki would prosper playing alongside Kayal and being given more freedom in the centre of the park.
I believe Hooper and Stokes would thrive on Ki playing further forward and threading balls though.
While not setting the tournament alight, Ki’s position in the team seems fairly safe because at only 21 (OK, 22 on Monday if you fancy sending a card), he brings a degree of experience to the Korean squad.
Ki has 33 international caps and was the seventh most capped player in the Korean squad of 24 at the start of the tournament. He may well have overtaken some of the others in the squad who haven’t played in the tournament so far.
Of the regular starting line-up, only Lee YoungPyo (with an amazing 124 caps), Park JiSung (98), Cha (55) and Lee ChungYong (34) have more caps than Ki. In fact, ten of the Korean squad are 22 or younger and the seven goals they scored in the group matches were scored by 3 players with a combined age of 58.
The very impressive Koo JaCheol, 21, has 4 goals, Ji DongWon, 19, has 2 goals and Sohn Heungmin, 18, has 1 goal. Sohn challenges Ruud Van Nistelroy for his place at Hamburg.
Saturday’s match is hard to predict. While Korea have passed the ball well and looked comfortable going forward, the centre of their defence looks unsteady.
Two of the goals they have conceded were penalties but the centre halves have been less than convincing and were bullied and tormented by Harry Kewell – sound familiar? Iran have won all 3 game so far and I worry that they may prove a bit too streetwise for some of the younger Koreans.
Park JiSung will be the key to the game. If he performs, he can drag the rest of the Korean team along with him and having decided this will be his last tournament with the national team, I’m sure the squad will be desperate for him to go out on a high or at least reach 100 caps in the semi final.
If you were to push me for a prediction, I’d go 2-1 Korea. It may be a case of not wanting to bet against your own team but whatever makes the wife happy will surely make me happy, too, right?