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Korea and Canada prepare for friendly

Both teams have grown a lot in the 14 years since their last match
Nov 11,2016
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The Korean national football team prepares for a practice session during team training on Tuesday at the Seoul World Cup Stadium. The team faces the Canadian national team tonight in a friendly match. [NEWSIS]
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The Korean national football team hosts Canada today in an international friendly, doubling as a tune-up for Uli Stielike’s side before the fifth match of the final World Cup qualifiers against Uzbekistan next Tuesday.

In today’s match against Canada, which takes place at Cheonan Baekseok Stadium in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, skipper Stielike, who has chosen a 25-man roster for the first time since he came to the helm, will likely test his players to decide the final 23-man roster for Tuesday’s qualifying match, as he is allowed to have only 23 men in the World Cup qualifications.

“I hope this match [against Canada] would be a confidence booster for my players,” said Stielike during a training session on Tuesday.

As attested by Stielike’s remark, Korea, ranked 44th in the latest FIFA Rankings, is in dire need for a morale booster before the match against Uzbekistan since they are trying to rebound from the devastating 1-0 loss against Iran last month.

After travelling all the way to Tehran, Korea returned home dispirited as it was outplayed by the Iranians in virtually every aspect of the game in the fourth match of the World Cup qualifiers.

The loss also bumped Korea down to third in its group. In the regional qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, while the winner and runner-up of the group will automatically gain berth in the World Cup, the third-placed team will have to compete in a regional play-off round before competing for the World Cup spot with the team that places fourth in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) qualifiers. To boost the chances for its ninth straight World Cup berth, Korea will have to take down Uzbekistan on Tuesday. Otherwise, it is going to be a long journey to Moscow.

Canada, ranked 110th, might do the job for Korea, but in terms of past records, Korea is trailing with one win, two losses and one draw, which means despite the huge discrepancy in rankings, Korea cannot take the match easily.

The last match between Korea and Canada took place in 2002, when Guus Hiddink was overseeing the national team. During the CONCACAF Gold Cup that year, Korea was ranked 42nd while Canada was 92nd and the team went into the third-place match thinking it was going to be an easy win. But Canada took down Korea 2-1.

The Canadian match 14 years ago is the latest evidence that Korea should not take the match lightly. As it has been over a decade since the two played against each other, both Korea and Canada may well go into today’s match feeling almost as if they are playing a team that they have never met before.

“We have to focus on our plays against Canada,” said Stielike. “Normally, we record a passing success rate of around 85 percent, but against Iran, this number went down to 77 percent. Such statistics directly translate into the result of a game. We will look into such factors and improve what needs to be improved.”

Son Heung-min, the ace of Stielike’s squad and forward for Tottenham Hotspur of English Premier League (EPL), said everyone is working hard for the upcoming games.

“We are all aware of how vital the game against Uzbekistan is,” Son said. “The final round of the qualifiers is always intense, just like Tuesday’s game will be. But it is a home game and we will take a win from it.” Regarding his latest slow form with his club in England, Son explained, “The team as a whole has been playing rather disappointingly. It is not just me, but a problem with the team.”

Son, who was selected the EPL player of the month for September after netting four goals and dishing out one assist, struggled in October, when he kept silent as his team went seven games with a single win.

“But it should not affect how I carry my duty with the national team,” added Son, who is likely to sit out for the game since he is not at his peak physical condition.

And Son isn’t the only one who won’t be showing up for tonight’s match.

While the team was preparing for the upcoming matches, Lee Chung-yong, a midfielder from Crystal Palace and one of the key players of the Korean team, was injured and is on the mend. Stielike said on Thursday during a press conference that Lee hurt his right foot the day before and had two stitches, which means he will sit out today’s game, although his appearance in the game on Tuesday is still undecided.

As for the Canadians, they expect today’s match will provide them with some challenges as well as an opportunity to hone their skills.

“Having watched [South Korea], they are certainly a fluid team with a lot of quality individually, and they’re a technically gifted team,” Michael Findlay, the manager of the Canadian national team, said on Thursday, according to Yonhap News Agency. “They’re going to provide us a lot of challenges in terms of ball manipulation and their movement. This is also a very physically challenging team.”

BY CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]