India are on the verge of making history in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) U16 Championship with Bibiano Fernandes and his colts just one-step away from a maiden semi-final appearance and FIFA U17 World Cup qualification.
As the Vikram Pratap Singh led side get ready for the match of their lives, we take a closer look at their formidable opponents.
Country: South Korea
FIFA Senior Team Ranking: 55
Nickname: Taegeuk Warriors (The Red Devils)
Last official match played: Iraq 0-2 South Korea (September 28, 2018
Coach: Kim Jung-soo
South Korea’s prominence in international football has risen drastically over the course of the past two decades. Having qualified for every senior FIFA World Cup since 1986, the Red Devils made headlines when they achieved a fourth-place finish in the 2002 edition in front of their home fans.
While the senior team remains one of the powerhouses of Asian Football, the U16 outfits have not been far behind with their performances in both the AFC Championship and the FIFA U17 World Cup.
At the AFC U16 Championship level, South Korea are jointly the most successful team in the competition’s history with two titles and as many runners-up finishes to their name.
South Korea lifted the trophy in 1986 and 2002 but they will be eager to make amends for their 2016 showing in India where they crashed out of the group-stage.
The country has so far managed five qualifications to the FIFA U17 World Cup with quarter-final finishes in the 1987 and 2009 editions being their best performances so far.
ROAD TO QUARTER-FINAL
Pooled in Group H of the 2018 AFC U16 Championship qualifiers, South Korea booked their tickets to Malaysia with a top-place finish. The Red Devils were clubbed alongside China, Myanmar and the Philippines and emerged as group-victors with three wins out of their three matches.
They thrashed the Philippines 8-0 before putting four past a hapless Myanmar. They clinched top spot in the group with a 1-0 victory over China in their final group match.
In the final event in Malaysia, South Korea were drawn alongside Australia, Iraq and Afghanistan in a tough Group D but have achieved qualification to the knock-outs with a perfect record of three wins.
They opened their campaign with an impressive 3-0 victory over the formidable Australia before crushing Afghanistan by 7-0. They confirmed their place as Group D toppers with a 2-0 victory over defending champions Iraq.
Kim Jung-Soo will be a name familiar to followers of Korean football. Having plied his trade as a defender in the K-League for nine years, Kim hung up his playing boots in 2005. In 2007, he started his professional coaching career by taking charge of the Baegam Middle School’s football team. Following coaching stints with Korea National League side Yongin City FC and K-League outfit Gwangju FC, Kim became affiliated to the Korea Football Association (KFA) in 2014.
He has since been working his way up from coaching the U13 National Team and took charge of the U17 outfit in the 2015 FIFA World Cup in Chile.
Unlike the South Korean U16 teams of the past which emphasised team-work, the 2018 squad is one which is more reliant on individual brilliance. Kim Jung-Soo has gone for players with excellent technical ability regardless of how young they are with FC Seoul’s Seo Jae-min being a prime example.
Though he might have plied his trade as a defender, Kim Jung-Soo prefers to fill his team with creative and aggressive players. Relying on a 4-2-3-1 formation for the most part, South Korea’s strength lies in its three aggressive midfielders in the form of Seo Jae-min, Yoon Seok Joo and Kim Dong Jyun.
The team also relies on both its fullbacks making overlapping runs to provide the width through the flanks .
PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Seo Jae-min: The FC Seoul U16 midfielder has been a favourite of Kim Jung-Soo ever since his days with the U13 South Korean team. One of the few South Korean players to be born in 2002 (most of them are 2003-born), Seo is a versatile midfielder. Blessed with a strong physique compared to other players of his age, the midfielder is blessed with breathtaking pace and a thunderous shot from distance. A game-changer in his own right for the team, Seo showed his range in the side’s 3-0 win over Australia where he was deployed as the attacking midfielder.
Jeong Sang-bin: The versatile Suwon Samsung U16 forward has been used as a wild card by the side since the qualifiers in September last year. The striker bagged four goals in the three qualifiers and has been in prolific form in the lead-up to the main tournament.
He showed his importance to the side after coming on as a 23rd minute substitute against Australia and instantly changed the momentum of the game. He has already scored two goals in the competition so far with both of them coming in the 7-0 win over Afghanistan.