South Korea will face group leaders Belgium at the Arena Corinthians, São Paulo in what is a must-win encounter for them. A draw is enough for Marc Wilmots’ Belgium to ensure top spot and avoid the Germans in the next round of knockout football. South Korea came away with a disappointing 4-2 defeat at the hands of Algeria with Heung-Min Son and Ja-Cheol Koo finding the net in a game where they were completely outplayed and outfoxed. With just one point from two games, Myung-Bo’s side now have a mountain to climb in the shape of Belgium to even have a sniff of qualification hopes that looks bleak with an inferior goal difference compared to Russia and Algeria. Belgium on the other hand, can look forward to resting some of its key players ahead of the all-important round of 16 fixture and field some of the exciting young talents at their disposal.
Divock Origi, who came off the bench replacing an uninspiring Lukaku and scored the winner against Russia, could be handed his first World Cup start against the South Koreans. Marc Wilmots might think about resting Eden Hazard as well and could make use of Adnan Januzaj at some point in the match. South Korea, boasting the youngest squad at this World Cup looked well beaten physically against Algeria and Myung-Bo will be making a few alterations to the starting line-up of the previous game, with a large squad to choose from.
- This is South Korea’s 9th World Cup, four more than any other Asian team. It’s their eighth World Cup in a row (since 1986), only Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Spain can boast a longer streak currently.
- South Korea conceded the fastest goal in World Cup history, against Turkey, when Hakan Sukur scored after 11 seconds on 29th June 2002 (2-3).
- Thibaut Courtois saved 87.1% of shots faced in the European qualifiers, the best ratio among goalkeepers who featured more than five times.
- Belgium were unbeaten in qualification for the World Cup; winning eight, drawing twice. And the Red Devils are unbeaten in the World Cup group stages yet.
Key Players – Ja-Cheol Koo and Axel Witsel
Koo Ja-Cheol, the team captain, has done his part in trying to lead his team. He was the other goal scorer against Algeria, and he has statistically been the most active attacking player over the first two matches. He covered 11.3 and 11.9 kilometers of ground against Russia and Algeria respectively. The skipper has insisted all is not lost for South Korea even after the disappointing result on Sunday.
“The group stage is not finished yet. It would have been difficult to motivate ourselves if we didn’t have any hopes, but that’s not the case. We need to have the same sort of desperation that we had against Russia.”
The captain will have to lead his team out again and galvanize others to play their hearts out, to ensure this game is not the final game the South Koreans play in Brazil in this edition of the World Cup. (Quotes from Yonhap News Agency)
Axel Witsel has been a pivotal figure in Belgium’s first two games – anchoring the midfield and dictating terms. Notably he’s had a 92.9% passing success rate at this World Cup so far and has managed to win at least 3 aerial duels per game. He’s been dribbled past just once in two games and the Zenit St.Petersburg midfielder has put in 5 tackles in this tournament so far. (2nd highest in Belgium). If Belgium are to ensure themselves a safe passage to the knockouts, this dynamic player will have to be at his dominating best in their final group game against the South Korean side. (Stats from WhoScored.com)
Two teams at opposite ends of the table will be locking horns at Sao Paulo in what promises to be an entertaining affair. South Korea will be motivated by desperation, the desperation to win having not done so in either of their previous group games. Whilst Belgium will look to make that top spot their own with a morale-boosting win and is there a better way to do it than making it three wins out of three?