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Korea gets formidable World Cup group

Assigned opponents will include Sweden, Mexico and Germany
Dec 04,2017
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Head coach Shin Tae-yong speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport on Sunday. [YONHAP]
Korea was assigned to Group F, one of the toughest groups of all, with Germany, Mexico and Sweden, at a ceremony for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at State Kremlin Palace in Moscow on Friday.

“It’s not the worst, but it’s not the best,” said head coach Shin Tae-yong at Incheon International Airport on Sunday. “I’m not asking for luck because I know the other three teams are stronger than us. Whichever teams we are playing against, we just need to try our best in our preparation.”

Based on the FIFA ranking, it will be difficult for Korea to expect a win against any of the three countries, as Korea is ranked the lowest at 59.

Germany is currently the top-ranked team and is also the defending champion, having won the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Along with France and Brazil, Germany is considered the most likely team to win at the upcoming World Cup.

Based on the three matches Korea and Germany have held, Germany holds the lead with two wins and one loss. Korea has only defeated Germany once, during a friendly match in December 2004. The two teams met twice in the FIFA World Cup in 1994 and 2002, where Korea lost 3-2 and 1-0. The 16th-ranked Mexico is another strong team that has advanced to the round of 16 in six consecutive FIFA World Cups. Looking at their all-time head-to-head record in FIFA World Cup, Mexico leads with six wins, four losses and two ties.

“Both Germany and Poland are similar,” Shin said. “When I went to the Rio Olympics as a head coach, I was assigned in a group with Germany and Mexico. When it happened again, I thought it was my destiny.”

It is very likely that Shin will make the most out of his coaching experience from the Rio Olympics, where the team defied expectations. Though many football fans expected Korea would be easy to beat, they played a 3-3 draw against Germany and defeated Mexico 1-0, finishing first in the group.

Though Sweden is ranked the second-lowest in the group, at 18th, they are not going to be an easy opponent for Korea, as they defeated Italy in the group qualification match to earn their berth to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Korea has a record of two ties and two losses against Sweden, but the two teams never played against each other at the FIFA World Cup.

“Sweden isn’t a team we can look down upon,” Shin said. “They are better in power and height. We’ll have to prepare well. Though Sweden is better than us, if we improve our teamwork, I think we may have a chance.”

Shin’s coaching ability will once again be evaluated as he moves forward. Shin, who first served his role as a head coach in 2010 for Seongnam FC, led the team to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions league title only in his first season.

Shin led the U-23 Korean national football team to the round of 16 at the Rio Olympics and led the U-20 Korean national football team to the round of 16 at the U-20 FIFA World Cup in June.

Starting on June 18, Korea will start its 2018 FIFA World Cup Group match against Sweden at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, against Mexico on June 24 at Rostov Arena and against Germany on June 27 at Kazan Arena. Only the top two teams in each group will advance to the round of 16.

As part of the preparation, the Korean national football team will compete in the last tournament of the year, the East Asian Football Federation’s E-1 Football Championship in Tokyo, starting on Dec. 9. Since the E-1 Championship is not FIFA’s official tournament, Shin’s roster does not include any of the European league players, as they are in the middle of their seasons. Due to this, most of the players are from Asian leagues.

The team will train in Ulsan until Dec. 6, when they leave for the tournament in Tokyo. After the E-1 Championship, the Korean national football team will leave for offseason training and play in friendlies in January.

BY SONG JI-HOON, PIH JU-YOUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]