(Xinhua) – South Korea’s early qualification for the round of 16 at the U-20 World Cup thanks to a ‘thankless’ upset of Japan will leave coach Kim Eun-joong with a pleasant conundrum.
With a ticket to the round of 16 in hand, South Korea will have to decide whether to play it safe in their final group game against Gambia on Sept. 29, or take the high road to reduce their chances of finishing third in the group.
South Korea will take on the Gambia in the third match of Group F at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023 in Mendoza, Argentina, at 6 a.m. on June 29. With two wins, the Gambia (6 points) and South Korea (4 points) have already qualified for the round of 16.
With Japan coming from behind to beat Israel 1-2 in Group C on Monday to finish third with one win and two losses, South Korea can still earn a wild card to the Round of 16, which is awarded to the top four of the top six teams in each group, even if it loses to the Gambia and finishes third in Group F. Japan is the favorite to advance to the Round of 16. The shocking upset loss to Japan, which saw the numerically superior team concede back-to-back goals in the second half, meant an early ticket to the tournament for South Korea.
This puts South Korea in the driver’s seat for the round of 16 against the Gambia. A loss to the Gambia would mean a tough Round of 16 matchup against a stronger opponent if they finish third in Group F, but a draw against the Gambia would secure second place.
We already know who South Korea will face in the round of 16, and it’s likely to be a South American team.
Should South Korea beat the Gambia to secure the top spot in Group F, they will face the runner-up in Group E. Currently, England leads Group E with two wins, while Uruguay and Tunisia have one win each, but Uruguay is second on goal difference. Considering that England plays the weakest team in the group, Iraq (2 losses), in their final game, a draw against Tunisia would give Uruguay a better chance of finishing second.
If South Korea draws with Gambia to clinch second place in Group F, their opponent is already known. South American side Ecuador 토토사이트 will finish second in Group B and face South Korea.
If South Korea drops to third place in Group F, they will face either Colombia (Group C) or Brazil (Group D), both South American nations, but with stronger opponents. For Kim, a third-place finish in Group F is not a scenario he’d like to see, especially since Brazil would be a tough matchup in the Round of 16. Of course, even if South Korea loses to the Gambia, if the other Group F match, Honduras-France, ends in a draw or France defeats Honduras, South Korea will finish second in the group.
In this situation, Kim said he would respect the Gambia’s two wins in a row and their quality of soccer, but he would be open to rotating the team for the round of 16.
“The Gambia is the most prepared team in this tournament organizationally and individually,” he said at a press conference before the Japan-Israel match, “and their players are fully capable in all positions.”
“I don’t think we need to exhaust ourselves if we qualify (for the round of 16) early,” he said of the Gambia’s plans for the third leg.
As for the 2-2 draw with Honduras after being down 0-2 in the second leg despite having the numerical advantage, Kim said, “We gave everything in the first leg against France (a 2-1 win), so there were some parts where we didn’t recover well, and our mental hunger was lower than in Honduras.” “I think it’s a good experience, and we’ll make up for that in the Gambia game and prepare with our best effort,” he vowed.
South Korea will also be forced to rotate a bit as goalkeeper Kim Jun-hong and defender Choi Seok-hyun are unavailable for the Gambia due to suspension. It will be interesting to see the U-20s’ tournament strategy as they look to repeat their runner-up finish in Poland in 2019.